The Mediterranean Sea system: a review and an introduction to the special issue
The Mediterranean Sea is a semi-enclosed sea characterized by high salinities, temperatures and densities. The net evaporation exceeds the precipitation, driving an anti-estuarine circulation through the Strait of Gibraltar, contributing to very low nutrient concentrations. The Mediterranean Sea has an active overturning circulation, one shallow cell that communicates directly with the Atlantic Ocean, and two deep overturning cells, one in each of the two main basins. It is surrounded by populated areas and is thus sensitive to anthropogenic forcing. Several dramatic changes in the oceanographic and biogeochemical conditions have been observed during the past several decades, emphasizing the need to better monitor and understand the changing conditions and their drivers. During 2011 three oceanographic cruises were conducted in a coordinated fashion in order to produce baseline data of important physical and biogeochemical parameters that can be compared to historic data and be used as reference for future observational campaigns. In this article we provide information on the Mediterranean Sea oceanographic situation, and present a short review that will serve as background information for the special issue in Ocean Science on "Physical, chemical and biological oceanography of the Mediterranean Sea". An important contribution of this article is the set of figures showing the large-scale distributions of physical and chemical properties along the full length of the Mediterranean Sea.