Record Ocean Temperatures Recorded Off New England Coast

by Bob Berwyn, via Summit County Citizens Voice

Federal ocean scientists said this year’s sea surface temperatures along the northeast coast of the U.S. set all-time records, with as-yet unknown consequences for marine ecosystems.

Above-average temperatures were found in all parts of the ecosystem, from the ocean bottom to the sea surface and across the region, and the above average temperatures extended beyond the shelf break front to the Gulf Stream, according to an ecosystem advisory issued by NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center.

The warm waters led to the earliest, most intense and longest-lasting plankton bloom on record, with  implications for marine life, from the smallest creatures to the largest marine mammals like whales. Atlantic cod continued to shift northeastward from its historic distribution center.

“A pronounced warming event occurred on the Northeast Shelf this spring, and this will have a profound impact throughout the ecosystem,” said Kevin Friedland, a scientist in the NEFSC’s Ecosystem Assessment Program. “Changes in ocean temperatures and the timing of the spring plankton bloom could affect the biological clocks of many marine species, which spawn at specific times of the year based on environmental cues like water temperature.”

Friedland said the average sea surface temperature exceeded 51 degrees during the first half of 2012, topping the previous record high set in 1951.The average sea surface temperature the past three decades has ranged around 48 degrees.

Temperatures climbed even higher than that in some near-shore locations like Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay, where sea surface temperature readings were more than 6 degrees above historical average and more than 5 degrees above average at the seafloor.

In deeper offshore waters to the north, bottom waters were 2 degrees warmer in the eastern Gulf of Maine and more than 3.6 degrees warmer in the western Gulf of Maine.

This year’s record-high ocean temperatures are a spike in a long-term trend that is push many commercial fish farther north and east in a response to ecosystem warming.

A 2009 study of data from 1968 to 2007 found that about half of the 36 fish stocks studied in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean have been shifting northward over the past four decades, with some disappearing from US waters as they move farther offshore.

Friedland said that, although cod didn’t shift as much as other species like hake in the 2009 study, the effects of warming water on ocean currents and other ocean circulation patterns could change that.

“Cod distribution continues to be dynamic, with northerly shifts detected in the spring 2012 data, consistent with a response to ecosystem warming,” Friedland said. “The big question is whether or not these changes will continue, or are they a short-term anomaly?”

Mike Fogarty, who heads the Ecosystem Assessment Program, says the abundance of cod and other finfish is controlled by a complex set of factors, and that increasing temperatures in the ecosystem make it essential to monitor the distribution of many species, some of them migratory and others not.

“A complex combination of factors influence ocean conditions, and it isn’t always easy to understand the big picture when you are looking at one specific part of it at one specific point in time, “Fogarty said. “We now have information from a variety of sources collected over a long period of time on the ecosystem, and are continually adding more data to clarify specific details. The data clearly show a relationship between all of these factors.”

The 2012 spring plankton bloom, one of the longest duration and most intense in recent history, started at the earliest date recorded since the ocean color remote sensing data series began in 1998. In some locations, the spring bloom began in February, and was fully developed by March in all areas except Georges Bank, which had an average although variable spring bloom. The 2012 spring bloom in the Gulf of Maine began in early March, the earliest recorded bloom in that area.

“What this early start means for the Northeast Shelf ecosystem and its marine life is unknown,” Fogarty said. “What is known is that things are changing, and we need to continue monitoring and adapting to these changes.”

Plankton samples are collected six times a year in each of the four subareas of the Northeast Shelf: the Middle Atlantic Bight, Southern New England, Georges Bank, and the Gulf of Maine. EcoMon scientists also collect water samples and other oceanographic data about conditions during each season in each of the four areas to provide a long-term view of changing conditions on the Shelf.

Ecosystem advisories have been issued twice a year by the NEFSC’s Ecosystems Assessment Program since 2006 as a way to routinely summarize overall conditions in the region. The reports show the effects of changing coastal and ocean temperatures on fisheries from Cape Hatteras to the Canadian border. The advisories provide a snapshot of the ecosystem for the fishery management councils and also a broad range of stakeholders from fishermen to researchers.

The Spring 2012 Ecosystem Advisory with supporting information is available online. To access, click here.

Bob Berwyn is the Editor of Summit County Citizens Voice. This piece was originally published at Summit Voice and was reprinted with permission.

20 Responses to Record Ocean Temperatures Recorded Off New England Coast

  1. Mark E says:

    Was it warm when it arrived, or did it get warm when it was in that area? And where is it going with all these extra BTUs?

  2. debi daniels says:

    the warming is happening all over. of concern also is the dying of the northern boreal forest. this fall, most of the matanuska valley near anchorage, was burned, and turned brown instead of yellow. the leaves are burnt and crispy at the edges. my yellow transparent apples are red blushed. bushy trees, like alder are burnt only on top. the understory leaves are ok. larch, burned. cherry trees, burned. if the entire forest dies, it will double the carbon load, and there will be no more deniers then. it will be the end of human civilization as we know it.

  3. Jack Burton says:

    Not sure what you mean by “Burned”. Are the trees actually dieing off?
    I live in Northern Minnesota with a similar climate and forest. So far our forest is still health despite a markedly warming climate. Our problem has been dry weather and forest fire.
    In the past our wet climate kept fire to a minimum. The hot dry summers are now causing big fires every year.
    I live on Lake Superiors shore and the lake water reached a record warm level last year. So far I haven’t heard where we stand this year, but it must be either close to record or a new record. The summer was hot and sunny and the water was fit for swimming by mid June.

  4. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Debi, there are many things that can be done to avoid the worst. And there are many forms of ‘civilization’ that do not rely on such waste of the planet’s resources, ME

  5. I wonder if the increased warming is having an effect on the jellyfish population. On a planetary scale, it seems that warming oceans are supporting more pesky jellyfish and less diversity — at least less of our current diversity. There could be a new era beginning.

  6. Merrelyn Emery says:

    See Jeremy Jackson (TED) – the future of the oceans is slime, ME

  7. jaywfitz says:

    Same issue in Hawaii. Bananas at the lower elevation are stressed and up the mountain where I’m doing forestry we lost a lot of Koa due to hot weather stimulating fungal blights. My aquaponics system is reading 3 degrees higher than last summer and 5 beyond the year I built it. Hope that’s a fluke.

    I’m planting teak. . .and coconuts. . .at 2200 feet.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I suppose you’ve seen the gobsmacking stories from Japan of boats capsized by the weight of jellyfish, huge buggers in massive numbers, in their nets. It’s not just the warming waters, its the overfishing and disruption of pelagic marine communities and food-chains and the pollution of the seas by nitrogenous run-off from the land. The last promotes anoxic dead-zones that further assist jellyfish proliferation. Once the big fish, who prey on little jellyfish, are gone, the little fish are goners to jellyfish predation. Nasty synergies everywhere, all heading in one direction- total biosphere collapse.

  9. John says:

    This is a huge temperature increase over a very large area. What is being reported elsewhere?

  10. squidboy6 says:

    This is the tipping point and we’re past it. It’s going to be a long hot winter…

    People in the Chesapeake Bay have been trying to rebuild oyster populations and now they’re going to have Vibrio to deal with as well. Once the water warms past 23 deg C the bacteria becomes a problem for shellfish.

    We’re doing things that should have been done thirty years ago. California just instituted marine reserves statewide and there will be some positive aspects due to the cold water current that’s maintained by upwelling, as long as the wind blows, but the ones in Southern California are obsolete and designed mainly for the benefit of rich beachfront owners and tourist-interests. They have a few years without commercial fishermen but the beaches will be gone soon. Even a 10 million dollar seawall built at Zuma Beach won’t change that.

    Next will be the problems from wetter Winter storms and heavier surf. If they had any brains they would have sold it by now…. Mitt just moved to Laguna Beach so that shows you where their brains are. Ban seawalls and groins, they only destroy the beaches left downstream. And his energy policy is drill, drill, drill.

    Say goodbye to the norm and hello to purgatory.

  11. squidboy6 says:

    Did I say $10 million? Sorry it’s $50 million after they try to restore the beach. This will be a great beach for a couple of years, then the next big El Nino will take it out. It was a nice beach twenty years ago but a few residences were allowed to build seawalls to protect their swimming pools (crazy no? right next to the ocean) and the sand kept disappearing.

    The seawall is right on their doorsteps and it once a beach that was 100s of feet wide! That sand will end up in the submarine canyon just off Point Dume.

  12. Fundulus says:

    Squidboy, you’ll be happy to hear that it looks like an El Nino is developing for this winter. With already warm oceans on either side of North America this should be interesting.

  13. Spike says:

    The UK’s Climate Change Risk Assessment marine section in 2012 stated that

    “There have been large changes (a ‘regime shift’) in the plankton community in UK waters over the past two decades, particularly in the North Sea. There has been a large increase in phytoplankton biomass in offshore waters around, and to the west of, the British Isles. There has also been a progressive shift northward in warmer water zooplankton species and a retreat to the north of colder water species. Increasing sea temperature since the 1980s is the key driver linked to these changes.”

  14. squidboy6 says:

    Hi Fundulus, I am happy that I’m not working in the ocean there this year. The weather has made things difficult and unpredictable so much so that decades of experience are almost useless.

    And diving off Malibu means seeing the remains of sandbags, PVC pipe, and plywood from decks all over the bottom. Those structures are temporary! Lobster love PVC pipes, though…

  15. Lionel A says:

    I hope that people can get used to eating jellyfish. Not only in waters that the Japanese fish but also around the coasts of the UK jellyfish numbers have been increasing – causing havoc for power stations that suck in water for cooling for example.

    Have you heard of the book by John Wyndham ‘The Kraken Awakes‘? Not about jellyfish per se but a large cephalopod type creature and these seem to have managed to survive a very long time under very changed conditions. If they feed on jellyfish then cephalopods could be in for a boom time too and they strike me as being a rather intelligent creature.

    You may have heard of Wyndham’s ‘The Day of the Triffids‘.

  16. I live in the middle of The South Coast of Ireland. Now we have jelly fish all the year round whereas once you only saw them in a warm summer

  17. John E. says:

    As far as I know, Mitt Romney has a house in La Jolla, not in Laguna Beach.

  18. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Yes-loved the Kraken. I can see a collected volume of Wyndham from where I sit, ‘Triffids’, ‘Kraken’, Çhrysalids’, ‘Midwich’, etc. I do eat jellyfish, occasionally, at Chinese restaurants or in sushi, but for the texture only. I have yet to discern any taste, rather like crocodile.

  19. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Just the one? How frugal.

  20. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I, of course, meant ‘flavour’ not ‘taste’.