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Atlantic Ocean, Northeast Coast Temperatures Hit 150-Year Record High: NOAA Warns

Update Date: Apr 26, 2013 10:14 PM EDT

Atlantic sea-surface temperatures along the coast warmed dramatically last year, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). For the past three decades, the average temperature has been about 54.3 degrees Fahrenheit and last year's temperatures reached 57.2 degrees.

According to the NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center, sea surface temperatures in the Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem during 2012 were the highest recorded in 150 years. That represented the highest such reading in the period of recordkeeping, dating to 1854, NOAA said. The agency noted that while the warming wasn't widespread, the temperatures along the Shelf were well above normal the entire year.

The report quotes Michael Fogarty, who heads NOAA's the Ecosystem Assessment Program:

"What these latest findings mean for the Northeast Shelf ecosystem and its marine life is unknown," Fogarty said. "What is known is that the ecosystem is changing, and we need to continue monitoring and adapting to these changes."

Sea surface temperature in the region is based on both contemporary satellite remote-sensing data and long-term ship-board measurements, with historical SST conditions based on ship-board measurements dating back to 1854. 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).

"Changes in ocean temperatures and the timing and strength of spring and fall plankton blooms could affect the biological clocks of many marine species, which spawn at specific times of the year based on environmental cues like water temperature," said Kevin Friedland, a scientist in the NEFSC Ecosystem Assessment Program, in an interview with Phys.org. "The size of the spring plankton bloom was so large that the annual chlorophyll concentration remained high in 2012 despite low fall activity. These changes will have a profound impact throughout the ecosystem."

NOAA noted that some recent studies have documented changes in the whereabouts of fish and shellfish, important developments for the commercial fishing industry.

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