NOAA: In 2012, Waters Off Northeast U.S. Coast Were Warmest In 150 Years

Northeast Shelf Regions: Mid-Atlantic Bight (MAB), Southern New England (SNE), Georges Bank (GB) and Gulf of Maine (GOM)

A new “Ecosystem Advisory” from NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) reports, “Sea surface temperatures in the Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem during 2012 were the highest recorded in 150 years.”

The Ecosystem extends from Cape Hatteras, N.C. to the Gulf of Maine. The temperature record is “based on both contemporary satellite remote-sensing data and long-term ship-board measurements.” In 2012, sea surface temperature (SST) for the region was nearly  3°F above the average for the past three decades:

The advisory reports on conditions in the second half of 2012.

Sea surface temperature for the Northeast Shelf Ecosystem reached a record high of 14 degrees Celsius (57.2°F) in 2012, exceeding the previous record high in 1951. Average SST has typically been lower than 12.4 C (54.3 F) over the past three decades.

… The temperature increase in 2012 was the highest jump in temperature seen in the time series and one of only five times temperature has changed by more than 1 C (1.8 F).

No doubt it was purely coincidental that six months ago, in the fall of 2012, the Northeast was hit by the “largest hurricane in Atlantic history measured by diameter of gale force winds (1,040mi).” Or not.

The fact is climate scientists have long predicted that about 90% of total human-made global warming would go into heating the oceans — and that’s precisely what’s been happening (see “Global Warming Has Accelerated In Past 15 Years, New Study Of Oceans Confirms“):

Land, atmosphere, and ice heating (red), 0-700 meter OHC increase (light blue), 700-2,000 meter OHC increase (dark blue).  From Nuccitelli et al. (2012).

But I guess we’ll need some storms even more destructive than frankenstorm Sandy before the nation wakes up to the reality that climate change is unfolding much as scientists had warned — and that means all but certain ruin for modern civilization if we don’t slash carbon pollution rapidly.

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35 Responses to NOAA: In 2012, Waters Off Northeast U.S. Coast Were Warmest In 150 Years

  1. prokaryotes says:

    RealClimate has more

    An intensification of the trades has affected surface ocean currents called the subtropical gyres, and these changes have resulted in a predominance of the La Nina state. The La Nina phase is associated with a lower global mean temperature than usual.

    Balmaseda et al’s results also suggested that a negative phase of the pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) may have made an imprint on the most recent years. In addition, they found that the deep ocean has warmed over the recent years, while the upper 300m of the oceans have ‘stabilised’.

    The oceans can be compared to a battery that needs to be recharged after going flat. After the powerful 1997-98 El Nino, heat flowed out of the tropical oceans in order to heat the atmosphere (evaporative cooling) and the higher latitudes. The warming resumed after the ‘deflation’, but something happened after 1998: since then, the warming has involved the deep ocean to a much greater extent. A weakening of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (MOC) may have played a role in the deep ocean warming.

    The recent changes in these decade-scale variations appear to have masked the real accumulation of heat on Earth.

  2. Daniel Coffey says:

    Aren’t coincidences great? Who could have predicted that the water temperature of the ocean would rise rapidly? The oceans only annually net add energy equal to that released by 64 million Hiroshima atomic explosions. Who knew?

    We here at the Department of Church and State believe this ocean-warming effect is a clear example of God’s will. Now, some people think this is due to increased greenhouse gases, but God’s will is a much clearer and more concise answer and covers far more territory. Indeed, it is God’s will that we have added greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, so the circle is complete.

    On a different point, I attended the grand opening of a new 200-acre, large-scale 26 megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) facility in Borrego Springs, California located on former farm land. Its very dry and crops require water, which is less and less available. It was lovely and from the mountains looking down, it blended with the grey mountains in the background. The facility could have produced 10 MW more solar power, but opposition to transmission lines by environmental groups restricted its capacity. Gotta love the environmentalists concerned with global warming and blocking needed transmission. That opposition must also be God’s will.

    So, let’s summarize: it’s all God’s will and therefore there is no reason to change our approach or thinking.

  3. Daniel Coffey says:

    Joe: On a more serious note, your posts are genuinely useful, if a tiny bit sardonic.

  4. Joe Romm says:

    I believe the response to your comment is “that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.”

  5. Daniel Coffey says:

    Third comment: Joe: you say: “… means all but certain ruin for modern civilization if we don’t slash carbon pollution rapidly.”

    It’s worth pointing out that the natural world is going to suffer far more and more strongly than the “civilized” portion because people have tools for adaption to which the wild world has no real access. The strain of environmental community which is concerned with the wild world and protecting it be various delay tactics should be regularly reminded that the world they are protecting is going to suffer the most if we don’t start taking the necessary triage steps and transform our electricity and transportation systems pronto.

    Otherwise, it might appeal to some to think of the demise of the civilized world on the premise that the natural world will somehow reemerge unscathed. That is plain, delusional fantasy.

  6. Daniel Coffey says:


  7. Joan Savage says:

    Rutgers’ website provides current and archived maps of the SST data.
    At the moment, the sequence of SST maps for recent weeks shows the shifting temperature boundary between the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current.

  8. Joan Savage says:

    NOAA’s earlier report on the record temperature in the Mid-Atlantic Bight in the first six months in 2012 has more about the temperature effects on fish.

  9. Joan Savage says:

    Correction, the area covered in the report is larger than the Mid Atlantic Bight.
    “The Northeast US Continental Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem (LME) extends from the Gulf of Maine to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.”

  10. fj says:

    And at a recent talk “The Science Behind Sandy” Columbia Earth Institute scientist and Professor Adam Sobel indicated that conditions will be increasing the frequency of climate events like Super Storm Sandy.

  11. fj says:

    There was a Tea-Partier funny clothes and all, who stood up and started asking questions on the path of typical delusions and in no uncertain terms he let her know that climate change was indeed very real.

  12. Colorado Bob says:

    Warming Atlantic Ocean may be causing changes in lobster growth cycle
    Lobster fishing is set to start early on the East Coast this spring because of changes to lobsters’ growth cycle that scientists believe may be linked to the warming Atlantic Ocean.

  13. Colorado Bob says:

    ” The early moulting has been occurring for a number of years but was most pronounced last year. There is even some indication lobsters are moulting more often than the usual once a year.
    Last year moulting lobsters were seen in April in Maine, and in June in Nova Scotia. “Shedders,” as they’re called, are normally seen in June in Maine and later in the summer in Nova Scotia”

  14. Jim Baird says:

    I love the battery analogy prokaryotes. We should be discharging the oceans with OTEC in advance of Nature doing it for use in the form of storms.

  15. thanes says:

    Don’t you think this might have something to do with the AMOC, it’s slowing, and the sea level rise in the same area of ocean (Hatteras to Maine)? This sounds like alot of water of the AMOC from the Gulf of Mexico piling up in the Atlantic.

  16. Paul Klinkman says:

    Just to check:

    When we get warmer ocean waters we get higher humidity. Higher humidity causes more powerful rain events which drives wind speeds and wave heights. Higher humidity also acts as a short-lived greenhouse gas before it rains out of the atmosphere.

    It’s nature’s irony that certain land masses are becoming more desert-like. The enhanced rainfall tends to stay over water or fall near coasts. In other places, higher land temperatures can prevent rain.

  17. Colorado Bob says:

    JS –
    Thanks for the link , as I read about this I was struck by NOAA’s comment that cod fish continue to flee Northeast . As I looked closer I found this comment from last fall in Portland, Maine .

    “We’re at a remarkable juncture in the history of the lobster resource right now,” Wahle said. “On the one hand, we have this surge in lobster population we’ve never seen before in the Gulf of Maine, [but] as you go to southern New England, it’s a collapsing fishery — and the causes may be the same.”…………… Temperatures in eastern Maine, where increases in catch have occurred, have increased a few degrees Fahrenheit over the last few decades, according to Wahle. At the same time, southern New England has watched its lobster population collapse and not recover, Wahle said. In western Long Island Sound, lobster landings have decreased 99 percent since 1998, according to Connecticut officials cited by the Associated Press.

  18. Colorado Bob says:

    Another item in this report, Sandy came in, and ended this event by turning the ocean over.
    Reading Joan’s link, this began in Feb . 2012 –

    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.

  19. Colorado Bob says:

    Reading your hypothesis ………
    I’m thinking the the Gulf Stream starts flowing up the West side of Greenland.

  20. Colorado Bob says:

    Nuuk , Greenland has a “British Climate” now. Not an “Arctic Climate”. If I’m right, the term “Labrador Current” is in the fossil record.

  21. BobbyL says:

    If the nation hasn’t realized the need for action probably it never will. Any rational person should be able to see the results of the climate computer models and reports about past changes in climate to know it is ridiculously risky not to act to reduce emissions. There probably never will be a Pearl Harbor moment to spur action. If we haven’t acted by now, 23 years after the first IPCC report pretty much spelled out what was likely ahead, we probably won’t. We recently went over the fiscal cliff. I guess we are also going to go over the climate cliff. Going over metaphoric cliffs seems be a new feature of the American character.

  22. Daniel,

    Two objections: One, we are part of the “wild world.” When it falls apart, we fall apart.

    Two, environmentalists are well aware of the damage we’re doing to “nature” — it’s been clear for some time that the sixth mass extinction, caused by humans, is well underway. So when people say nature will go on after humans take themselves out of the picture, no one is maintaining that the natural world as we know it will go unscathed. Think of all those coral reefs. Everyone who’s paying attention knows about that.

    What people are saying is that after humans eliminate themselves and stop destroying the earth — a highly likely scenario at this point — nature will quickly (about two million years) recover much of its present biodiversity as the organisms that survive the Anthropocene Extinction evolve and diversify to fill the available ecological niches.

  23. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    But are these ‘environmentalists’ real, or are they Astro-turf phonies created by the Kochtopus?

  24. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I agree with your summation. Homo destructans has only been around for a few tens of thousands of years, and only settled, and at war with nature, for, what, about ten thousand years. Our industrialised capability for mass destruction is but two hundred and fifty odd years old, yet we are about to deliver life on this planet the most crushing blow since the extinction of the dinosaurs. We have made no progress spiritually as our material civilization has grown neoplastically. Indeed, save for the exceptions of a few far-sighted moral and religious philosophers and their more enlightened followers, we seem, to me, to have regressed in our understanding of our true place in space and time compared to the indigenous cultures that European colonialism and imperialism destroyed in the last 500 years. The patriarchal monotheists take most of the blame, in their quest to ‘subdue Nature’, a really pernicious doctrine. I am,of course, not speaking of the happy band who gather here.

  25. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Won’t make no difference. You cannot enlighten a brick.

  26. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    These cliffs are all merely pygmies beside the psychological precipice that humanity fell off when the great Rightwing Reaction set in during the 1970s. They buried one of the architects of the destruction of humanity in London a couple of weeks back, just as her worldview was near to reaching its hideous fulfillment.

  27. Mark E says:

    Jim, what effect will that have on thermohaline circulation?

    OTEC merely borrows a bit of superficial “charge” from the ocean surface while accelerating warming of the deep ocean.

    This is only a good idea if you believe in “out of sight out of mind”.

  28. Mark E says:

    We are products of “nature”, which is nothing more than the set of ecological common sense principles that runs this place;

    Whether they are big or small, displacement events don’t have the slightest impact on “nature”.

    Bad as the K/T extinction, the Toba disaster, or the PETM might have been – nature just motored along.

    Nature does not “fall apart” and we can’t “destroy” it.

    All we can do is change the conditions here in ways that *we* don’t like. Nature will just motor along, like always.

    Whether we motor along with it is up to us.

  29. Joan Savage says:

    The lobster situation is more than just direct effects of increased water temperature, though it remains the pivot point for other factors.

    Cod are predators of lobsters. As cod flee to cooler water, the Maine lobster population multiplies.

    The collapse of the Southern New England (SNE) lobster fishery has been in part due to over-harvesting, but a primary factor in SNE lobster population collapse is water temperature over 68F that causes respiratory stress to lobsters.
    For more on the SNE collapse:
    So, the critical climate change factor for lobsters is persistent 68F (20C) water temperature.

    Ironically, although cod are adapted to much colder water, their upper threshold also seems to be 68F (20C).

    Go quantitative.

  30. Joan Savage says:

    Where the increased water temperature, 14 degrees Celsius (57.2°F) in 2012, does have a more immediate effect is on nutrient mixing, blooms of phytoplankton and resulting hypoxia (oxygen depletion), which makes respiration difficult for lobsters and fish.

    “Winter mixing went to extreme depths in 2013.”

  31. Joan Savage says:

    “Any rational person should be able to see..”

    People who use the MBTI would say that about 15% of the population are ‘Rational.’ In the MBTI classification scheme, Guardians, Artisans, or even Idealists each have larger portions of the population than do the Rationals.

    That might be part of the climate change messaging problem.

  32. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    What, no ‘Rational Idealists?’. Can’t we multi-task our inner being?

  33. Jan says:

    Hurricane Sandy wasn’t even enough. We need one twice her here size here with our power out for six months… People are sleepwalking to oblivion.