Numerical modelling of physical processes governing larval transport in the southern North Sea
Abstract. A three-dimensional hydrodynamic model (GETM) was coupled with a particle tracking routine (GITM) to study the inter-annual variability in transport paths of particles in the North Sea and English Channel. For validation, a comparison with observed drifter trajectories is also presented here. This research investigated to what extent variability in the hydrodynamic conditions alone (reflecting passive particle transport) contributed to inter-annual variability in the transport of eggs and larvae. In this idealised study, no a priori selection of specific spawning grounds or periods was made and no active behaviour (vertical migration) or mortality was included. In this study, egg and larval development towards coastal nursery areas was based solely on sea water temperature, while settlement areas were defined by a threshold water depth. Results showed strong inter-annual variability in drift direction and distance, caused by a combination of wind speed and direction. Strong inter-annual variability was observed both in absolute amount of settlement in several coastal areas, and in the relative importance of the different areas. The effects of wind and temperature variability are minor for settlement along the western shores of the North Sea and in the English Channel, but have a very significant impact on settlement along the eastern shores of the North Sea. Years with strong south-westerly winds across the Dover Straight resulted in higher settlement figures along its eastern shores of the North Sea (standard deviation 37% of the mean annual settlement value). Settlement in the western Dutch Wadden Sea did not only show inter-annual variability, but patterns were also variable within each year and revealed seasonal changes in the origin of particles: during winter, stronger currents along with colder temperatures generally result in particles originating from further away.