Rapid Warming Provides Window to the FutureIn Stewarding the Ecosystem
Over the last 40 years, the Gulf of Maine has experienced an explosion in its lobster population, a decline in many other native species, and an influx of new species from outside the region. Scientists are still unraveling the complex causes of these changes, but one significant factor is clear—extraordinary warming in the Gulf of Maine.
Since 2004, water temperature in the Gulf has increased a half degree Fahrenheit each year. By comparing this trend with data from the rest of the globe, our researchers determined this year that our rate of warming is faster than 99% of the world’s oceans. This dramatic and rapid change has affected the entire ecosystem—challenging many key species and the industries that rely on them.
Marine ecosystems tend to have highly mobile species and short generation times, making them highly reactive to changes in the environment. Terrestrial ecosystems face similar challenges from warming climates, but they are generally slower to change and less reactive to sudden spikes in temperature.
In 2012, a singularly warm year for the Gulf of Maine, water temperatures spiked. Even over the course of the summer, we saw species responding. Lobsters moved inshore earlier. And southerly species—like squid and black sea bass—showed up in greater numbers than previously observed.
This extraordinary rate of change is providing our researchers with a unique opportunity to examine the impact of warming on a marine ecosystem and develop new strategies of how to adapt.
This year, we launched the Casco Bay Aquatic System Survey—a long-term monitoring effort that will look across the ecosystem to understand how it works and how it’s changing. We also worked on several projects connected to National Science Foundation’s interdisciplinary Coastal SEES effort. Our research is looking at specifically at changes in temperature and species distribution, impacts on lobster fishery economics, and development of climate data projections.
Temperature-driven changes in marine environment can easily outpace our current approach to managing marine ecosystems and fishery resources. Through these projects, we hope to not only understand the changes, but to learn how to better adapt to them.