Ocean-surface temperatures from Maine to North Carolina have shot to their highest in 150 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on April 25.
"Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem during 2012 were the highest ever recorded in both long-term observational and short-term remote sensing time series," said NOAA in a statement containing data from the agency's Northeast Fisheries Science Center. "These exceptionally high SSTs are part of a pattern of elevated temperatures occurring in the Northwest Atlantic, but not seen elsewhere in the ocean basin."
Large Marine Ecosystems are expanses of ocean space of 77,220 square miles or more, according to the NOAA definition, "adjacent to the continents in coastal waters where primary productivity is generally higher than in open ocean areas."
The Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem, one of several such designations around the world, stretches from the Gulf of Maine to Cape Hatteras along the Atlantic Ocean and eastward to the end of the Continental Shelf.
"These high sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are the latest in a trend of above average temperature seen during the spring and summer seasons, and part of a pattern of elevated temperatures occurring in the Northwest Atlantic, but not seen elsewhere in the ocean basin over the past century," NOAA said in its statement on the advisory, which covers conditions for the second half of 2012. The next-highest temperature reading in this region was registered in 1951, NOAA said. Temperatures were recorded with a combination of satellite data and ship-board measurements dating back to 1854.
The record high temperature for 2012 was 57.2°F (14°Celsius), when the usual average is less than 54.3°F (12.4°C) over the past 30 years, NOAA said. "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 1.8°F [1°C]."
Several species, including black sea bass, summer flounder, longfin squid and butterfish, have been shown to be migrating northeastward as the temperatures change, as well.
“What these latest findings mean for the Northeast Shelf ecosystem and its marine life is unknown,” said Michael Fogarty, head of the Ecosystem Assessment Program of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center. “What is known is that the ecosystem is changing, and we need to continue monitoring and adapting to these changes.”
This may not be the only area of ocean warming, however. A study published earlier this year in the journal Geophysical Research Letters discussed overall increasing ocean temperatures, noting that oceans absorb much more heat energy than air and could be another indicator of climate change.
The study, noted the Conde Nast techno site ArsTechnica.com, found that the deep ocean has not only absorbed a "surprising amount of heat" but that the rate of absorption has also been increasing over the past decade. It's also happening at deeper and deeper levels. In fact, much of the warming occurring on the planet is happening below the ocean's surface, according to climate scientist Dana Nuccitelli.
"Only about 2 percent of global warming from the increased greenhouse effect is used in heating the air, while about 90 percent heats the world’s oceans," Nuccitelli wrote in an April 1 op-ed on LiveScience.com, referencing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He also quoted the study authors, who concluded, “In the last decade, about 30 percent of the warming has occurred below 700 meters, contributing significantly to an acceleration of the warming trend.”