Climate refugia in the Baltic Sea - Modelling future important habitats by using climate projections.


Please note:

The Commission is in the process of updating some of the content on this website in light of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. If the site contains content that does not yet reflect the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, it is unintentional and will be addressed.



Habitat-forming species are key in providing ecosystem services, green infrastructure and Blue Economy. The report represents the modelling results of the spatial distribution of key habitat-forming species in the Baltic Sea for two climate change scenarios.

Sea Basin(s): 
Application in MSP: 
Applied in a related process
Not sector specific
Type of Issue: 
Economic aspects
Environment aspects
Resilience to climate change
Social aspects
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Analyse spatial aspects
Develop and implement plan
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 

Questions this practice may help answer: 

  • How MSP process can help to foresee climate refugia in the Baltic Sea? 
  • How to make the MSP future-proofing in the face of climate change?  

Implementation Context: 

The report is developed in the context of the Pan Baltic Scope project. The Baltic Sea is undergoing drastic environmental changes that are partly due to the climate change. Significant number of major habitat-forming species in the region are key in the provision of ecosystem services, green infrastructure and Blue Economy. As such, future maritime spatial planning should take into consideration environmental protection and the development of coastal economy. 

Aspects / Objectives: 

The aim of the report was to project future distribution of major habitat-forming species, typical to the region, under different climate change scenarios. 


The data used in the project was provided by the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI) and the Geological Survey of Sweden (SGU), and is a part of the ClimeMarine project. 

Using the latest climate models, SMHI predicted future changes of several major ecologically structuring factors, such as salinity, temperature and nutrients. By modelling the presence and absence of key species, using historical reference data, it is possible to predict future species distributions, given the projected changes in structuring factors. For this purpose and in this project, habitat changes for two climate change scenarios were modelled: one resting on assumptions of ambitious mitigation efforts (RCP 4.5, c. 2°C global warming), and the other representing a laissez faire-scenario (RCP 8.5, c. 4.5°C global warming). 

Main Outputs / Results: 

According to the modelling results, many species will have a radically different distribution by the year 2100:  

  • Distribution of species limited by salinity may be drastically reduced. Some species may disappear in the northern and central Baltic Sea, as well as in the Bothnian Sea. Other species are projected to relocate to new areas.  
  • Distribution of freshwater species is projected to remain similar or with slight changes.  
  • Particularly hard bottoms (but also sandy bottoms) may loose ecosystem functions.  
  • Certain areas appear to be particularly important as core, refugia or “last stands” for species.  

These predictions indicate that climate change represents a significant threat to ecosystem functioning and Blue Economy in the next 80 years. Immediate actions to mitigate climate change and to restore damaged habitats to salvage ecosystem functions seem highly warranted. Based on these results, recommendations are proposed for future-proofing marine spatial planning, environmental protection, development of Blue Economy, predicting future green infrastructure, as well as ecological base for future ecosystem services and marine economy. 


While projections are made for the Baltic Sea, the methodology can be  applied to other marine regions.


Pan Baltic Scope project.


The synthesis report was developed within the framework of the Pan Baltic Scope project sponsored by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).