The news just keeps getting worse for cold-temperature fish such as cod in the ever-warming waters of the Gulf of Maine.
A new study, conducted by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers and appearing in the Journal of Geophysical Research — Oceans, reached an ominous conclusion: The waters of the Gulf of Maine, which a previous study showed to be warming faster than 99.9 percent of the rest of the planet’s oceans, are continuing to warm at an accelerated rate and are expected to continue doing so for at least the next 80 years.
“The Gulf of Maine is really being subjected to a one-two punch,” said Vincent Saba, a NOAA Fisheries scientist and lead author of the study. “On one hand, the region is dealing with the elements of global warming being experienced in all of the oceans, but there also has been a change in the circulation of the two gulf streams that feed into the Gulf of Maine.”
The result, according to Saba, is that more of the warmer water contained in the shifting Gulf Stream is making its way into the Gulf of Maine from the south, while less of the colder water from the Arctic and Labrador streams are entering the gulf from the north and east.
“The Gulf of Maine really sits at the intersection of those two currents,” Saba said.
Saba said the climactic models used in the study project the warming trend could continue for the next 80 years, potentially rising another 4 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit and setting the stage for extreme and potentially ruinous changes in the region’s ecosystem.
“We’re projecting the Gulf of Maine and the surrounding waters near Nova Scotia are warming two or three times faster than originally projected and almost three times faster than the global average,” Saba said. “Prior climate change projections [for the area] may have been far too conservative.”
That doesn’t sound like good news for species, such as cod, that historically have flourished in colder water temperatures.
“No, it’s not,” Saba said. “It’s really not.”
Saba, who works at NOAA Fisheries’ Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey, said the next step is for researchers to project the warming water trends onto fish species and other marine creatures, such as sea turtles, to determine how they might impact the species’ health and future.
The results of the NOAA study closely mirror the conclusions of last fall’s study by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute that showed the growing warming divide between the Gulf of Maine and the rest of the globe’s oceans and the direct connection between that climactic change and the collapse of the Gulf of Maine cod stock.
The GMRI study, published in the journal Science, said the Gulf of Maine’s sea surface temperature rose three times faster than the global mean rate from 1982 to 2013 and increased more than seven-fold since 2004 — translating into water temperatures rising 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over those 21 years on annual increases of about 0.05 degrees.
The GMRI study — and comments from some of its researchers — angered fishing stakeholders when they also concluded that at least part of the blame for the decline of the cod stock was due to “chronic overfishing.”
The NOAA study did not draw any such correlation. But based on climactic changes alone, Saba said, the results of the NOAA study provide an alarming warning of what is occurring in the Gulf of Maine.
“The last 10 years in the Gulf of Maine wasn’t a fluke,” Saba said.
In a regional projection contained in Quarterly Climate Impacts and Outlook, researchers for NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center and Environment Canada said they expect “increased chance of above-normal temperatures for the Gulf of Maine region” this winter following substantially warming sea surface temperatures throughout the fall.
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