Study Shows: U.S. East Coast Sea Temperatures Highest In 150 Years

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Study Shows: U.S. East Coast Sea Temperatures Highest In 150 Years

NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) has reported that the U.S. east coast sea surface temperatures had the warmest year in 2012 in the past 150 years.

The researchers analyzed temperatures between Cape Hatteras, N.C. and the Gulf of Maine using satellite and ship-board measurements. They found that the average sea surface temperature reached  57.2 F (14 C) in 2012, which beat the previous highest record set in 1951.

“2012’s temperature rise also marked the largest single-year increase since records began in 1854 and one of only five times that average temperatures have jumped by more than 1.8 F (1 C),” writes the Huffington Post.

“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,” Kevin Friedland, a scientist in the NEFSC Ecosystem Assessment Program, said in a press statement.

The Huffington Post shares:

Research has shown that rising ocean temperatures as a result of climate change may also pose a threat to the ocean’s single-celled phytoplankton, such as algae. They are not only the foundation of the marine food chain, Climate Central explains, but they also “consume about half of the carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere.”

Scientists aren’t certain of the extent to which rising temperatures will impact these organisms, or how quickly they will be able to adapt, but slowed phytoplankton growth could mean more CO2 remaining in the atmosphere.

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are at their highest level in human history and continue to rise.

Increased carbon dioxide in the air — as a result of human activities like the burning of fossil fuels — also means more CO2 dissolved in the world’s oceans. 

“It’s yet another reason to be very seriously concerned about the amount of carbon dioxide that is in the atmosphere now and the additional amount we continue to put out,” NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco told the Associated Press in 2012. “It is going to be a long time before we can stabilize and turn around the direction of change simply because it’s a big atmosphere and it’s a big ocean.”

As we’ve previously reported, new research from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has found that the global rise in sea level is happening 60% faster than the projections by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“Results show that global temperature continues to increase in very good agreement with the best estimates of the IPCC,” the authors of the new study write. “The rate of sea level rise of the past decades, on the other hand, is greater than projected by the IPCC models. This suggests that IPCC sea level projections for the future may also be biased low.”

The study’s lead author, Sefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam (Germany) Institute for Climate Impact Research shares:

It contrast to the physics of global warming itself, sea level rise is much more complex. To improve future projections it is very important to keep track of how well past projections match observational data. The new findings highlight that the IPCC is far from being alarmist, and in fact in some cases rather underestimates possible risks.

Wondering how different the two projections are? The IPCC projected that sea level rise is happening at the rate of 2mm per year, whereas the new research estimates that sea levels are rising at an average rate of 3.2mm a year. What’s more, these findings don’t even account for the ice flowing into the sea from Greenland and Antarctica.


Susmita is a freelance writer and editor in the Greater New York City area with her own blog on natural beauty (Cherry Stained Lips). In her spare time, Susmita enjoys cooking, traveling, dappling in photography, art history and interior design, and moonlighting as a therapist for her loved ones.