GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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October 8, 2012

Study shows new signs of sea change

Sea surface temperatures along the Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem — the waters off the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts -- were the highest ever recorded during the first half of 2012, the government reports.

“A profound warming event occurred on the Northeast Shelf this spring, and this will have a profound impact throughout the ecosystem,” said Kevin Friedland, a scientist at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole.

The average sea surface temperature in the region exceeded 51 degrees, surpassing the previous record for the time of year, from 1951. The average sea surface temperature for the time of year over the past three decades was more than three degrees lower than the high

Issued Sept. 18, the report from the science center emphasized that even more extreme variations were documented in two of the ecosystem’s great feeder estuaries -- Cheseapeake and Delaware bays, where temperatures were more than 6 degrees above historical averages on the surface and more than 5 degrees above average at the bottom.

The report was published amid tumultuous changes in the location and concentration of sea creatures of the great Northern Shelf ecosystem — and, by coincidence, five days after the acting Commerce secretary, Roberta Blank, declared the groundfishery of the Northeast from Maine to New York to be an economic disaster, a result of constricting catch limits on stocks determined by NOAA science to be weaker than expected.

Scientists tend to avoid generalizing cause and effect, but there is broad consensus that the warmer waters are pushing many many species -- including cod, the historic bastion of the Northeast commercial fisheries -- off their traditional grounds as they seek optimal new locales for feeding and reproduction.

The advisory posted last month also reported that bottom temperatures were 1 degree warmer in the eastern Gulf of Maine and 2 degrees warmer in the western gulf of Maine.

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