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.
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