The ocean is warming at an alarming rate, this is not necessarily a revelation that we are witnessing. Closer to home, Maine will be directly impacted and far faster than most of the world. This is due to the Gulf of Maine and surrounding areas in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean becoming the fastest warming regions in the entire ocean. Although warming has been reported for the last five decades, the temperature has sharply accelerated in the last ten years and is continuing to get hotter and hotter each year. Just last year alone, Summer 2021 marked the second warmest season in the Gulf on record.
The Gulf is not the only body of water being affected by warming temperatures. Just nearby in Georges Bank, (which separates the Gulf of Maine from the North Atlantic), and in Cape Cod, intense warm anomalies are also present. Contrary to popular belief, The Scotian Shelf, off the coast of Nova Scotia and The Slope water region (a water mass extending from between the Gulf stream and Continental shelf north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina) have recently been warming even faster than the Gulf of Maine itself.
The causes of what is happening can be explained briefly in three ways. First, the overall warming of the oceans is because greenhouse gas concentrations are rising. Secondly, the melting ice of Greenland and the Arctic Ocean are providing melted freshwater that can alter the ocean circulation patterns in the region. Third, the weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is leading the Gulf Stream to shift northward, which in turn is weakening the cold water currents, allowing warm water to be pushed into the region.
How does this affect Maine? Fishing is the first industry that will continue to be affected. Herring populations are declining, as well as other species, and researchers and fishermen are seeing an increase in species usually found in warmer waters, such as butterfish, squid, blue crabs, and black sea bass. Even a smooth hammerhead shark has been caught in our waters. These species present off the coast of Maine are far from their normal homes. On top of that, ocean temperature change is also affecting wildlife that feed off the fish. For example, puffins have had to adapt their feeding behaviors for chicks as the newly common butterfish are too large for their babies. Maine’s wildlife and industries are being affected in higher levels than ever before by the warming ocean temperatures.