Sum­mer may be get­ting longer in wa­ters off New Eng­land

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY PA­TRICK WHIT­TLE As­so­ci­ated Press

Port­land, Maine — Sum­mer is get­ting longer in the wa­ters off New Eng­land, and that could have big ram­i­fi­ca­tions for ev­ery­thing from the strength of storms to the health of fish­eries and en­dan­gered whales, ac­cord­ing to sci­en­tists.

The sci­en­tists, led by An­drew Thomas of the Univer­sity of Maine, said the warm­ing of the Gulf of Maine has added up to 66 days of sum­mer-like tem­per­a­tures to the wa­ter sur­face since 1982.

The gulf, which stretches from Mas­sachusetts to Nova Sco­tia, is a crit­i­cal piece of ocean for in­dus­tries such as fish­ing, ship­ping and tourism, and re­searchers have pre­vi­ously said it is warm­ing faster than al­most all of Earth’s wa­ters.

The sci­en­tists in­volved in the study used 33 years of satel­lite data to iden­tify sea­sonal trends. The data show that the warm­ing of the Gulf of Maine has been much greater in the months from June to Oc­to­ber, ef­fec­tively stretch­ing out the length of sum­mer, Thomas said.

Warmer, longer sum­mers will re­sult in “win­ners and losers” in the Gulf of Maine, Thomas said, adding that some con­se­quences could be dire.

“We may cross some thresh­old where some virus or some bacteria might be able to make a liv­ing here,” Thomas said. “But if you’re a tourist who wants to swim at a beach, a warmer July or Au­gust might be just fine.”

Thomas and his co-au­thors pub­lished their find­ings in the sci­en­tific jour­nal Ele­menta last month. The pa­per says longer sum­mers could have se­ri­ous ram­i­fi­ca­tions be­cause ris­ing wa­ter tem­per­a­tures can dis­rupt ocean ecosys­tems.

The sci­en­tists’ work il­lus­trates that the Gulf of Maine is “ground zero for ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the im­pacts of ocean warm­ing,” said Malin Pin­sky, an ecol­o­gist and as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Rut­gers Univer­sity who was not in­volved in the study.

The pa­per also says the trend could pro­vide more hos­pitable wa­ters for hur­ri­canes, which feed off warm wa­ter. The cold wa­ter typ­i­cal of the Gulf of Maine would nor­mally cause a hur­ri­cane to lose en­ergy, but such a storm could stay strong if it en­ters the re­gion in fu­ture sum­mers be­cause of the warm­ing trend, ac­cord­ing to the study.

“Many of the big storms that are go­ing to im­pact New Eng­land get some of their en­ergy and some of their mois­ture from the ocean,” said An­drew Per­sh­ing, a sci­en­tist with the Gulf of Maine Re­search In­sti­tute in Port­land and a co-au­thor of the pa­per.

Some of the big­gest im­pacts of the warm­ing trend al­ready are be­ing felt through changes to the marine life in the Gulf of Maine, where fish­er­men seek valu­able species, such as lob­sters and had­dock. The warm­ing of the gulf tracks with a trend of some species, such as lob­sters, mov­ing fur­ther north, Per­sh­ing said.

The trend also could cause a change in the avail­abil­ity of food that jeop­ar­dizes the fu­ture of en­dan­gered North At­lantic right whales, said Ni­cholas Record, an­other co-au­thor of the pa­per and a se­nior re­search sci­en­tist at Bigelow Lab­o­ra­tory for Ocean Sciences in East Booth­bay, Maine.

The whales, which num­ber no more than 500, have ex­pe­ri­enced high mor­tal­ity this year. It’s pos­si­ble the whales are be­com­ing more vul­ner­a­ble as the ocean warms be­cause the tiny or­gan­isms they eat might be mov­ing to dif­fer­ent parts of the ocean dur­ing the feed­ing sea­son, Record said.

“An­i­mals use that sea­son­al­ity. The more they are out of align­ment, the more that strains the food web,” Record said. “When the tim­ing moves apart, that has ef­fects that prop­a­gate through­out the food web. Usu­ally neg­a­tive ef­fects.”

Robert F. Bukaty / AP

A group of sci­en­tists say the warm­ing of the Gulf of Maine has added up to 66 days of sum­mer-like tem­per­a­tures to the body of wa­ter for fish­ing, ship­ping and tourism.

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