NOAA Projects Rapid Warming for New England Waters

The Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest warming bodies of water on the planet. Image via USGS.

Vincent Saba, a NOAA Fisheries scientist and lead author of a new study on climate change in the Northwest Atlantic, compares global climate models to television screens. In a press release yesterday, he said that using coarse resolution climate models to study regional changes such as those in the Gulf of Maine is “like comparing an old standard-definition television to today’s ultra-definition screens.” It just doesn’t work.

The problem with the coarse climate models is that they cannot accurately represent regional ocean circulation patterns. Saba et al.’s study, “Enhanced warming of the Northwest Atlantic under climate change,” however, corrects for this by using NOAA’s high resolution climate model, GFDL CM2.6. The good news is that we now have improved climate change projections for Gulf of Maine. The bad news: the projections don’t look so good.

Using output from GFDL CM2.6 and three other models, the researchers found that “ocean temperature in the U.S. Northeast shelf is projected to warm twice as fast as previously projected and almost three times faster than the global average.”

According to the study, this translates to warming of about 3 to 4 degrees Celsius (5.4 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Gulf of Maine, a disastrous projection for the ecosystem.

Data released last year indicated that the Gulf of Maine is already warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, and the region’s iconic marine species – cod to lobster – are already feeling the effects.

You can watch this video to hear Dr. Jon Witman, Professor of Biology at Brown University, describe the impacts of climate change on the kelp forest at Cashes Ledge, which he has experienced firsthand.

Although the projections are not promising, they indicate that we are gaining a more thorough understanding of how our ocean is changing around us. With that understanding, we can only hope for more well-informed, robust action.


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