Ocean Temperatures

Northeast ecosystem component


Sea-surface temperature

Sea-surface temperatures (SST) in the U.S. Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem (NES-LME) are increasing at a faster rate than the majority of the world’s oceans, and these changes will undoubtedly affect the economy and ecology of the region over the next century. In Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, Atlantic cod, haddock, and red hake among others are projected to lose much of their suitable thermal habitat, while some Mid-Atlantic species are projected to benefit from warming SSTs, including Atlantic croaker, striped bass, and rosette skate1. Effects from changing ocean temperatures will likely reverberate through the trophic web. Changes to primary productivity and zooplankton community dynamics and will likely affect higher trophic level species, such as North Atlantic right whale, herring, and mackerel2.

Annual sea-surface temperature anomalies in the Northwest Atlantic.
Annual SST anomalies between 1982-2017 in the NE-LME.

Cold pool

The Cold Pool is a key oceanographic feature in the Mid-Atlantic Bight, consisting of a band of cold near-bottom water extending between Cape Hatteras and southern Georges Bank. A remnant of colder winter waters, the Cold Pool exists between spring and fall, separated from the surface by a seasonal thermocline and surrounded by warmer waters in the along-shelf and cross-shelf directions3.

After formation, the cold bottom water that makes up the Cold Pool is advected southwest, slowly warming over the course of the summer. Ultimately, cooling of surface waters in the fall and wind-mixing leads to the dissolution and destratification of the feature.The Cold Pool serves as the southernmost habitat of some more northerly distributed species, including yellowtail flounder. Longer lasting and cooler Cold Pools have been associated with higher recruitment success of yellowtail flounder4.

Climatological view of the Mid-Atlantic cold pool.
Average bottom temperature distribution on the Northeast US Shelf for July-August. The Mid-Atlantic Bight is visible as the isolated cold water mass with the coldest waters (<7C) centered near 40N, 72.5W (Credit: Paula Fratantoni/NEFSC)

Next component

    1. 1. Kleisner K, Fogarty M, McGee S, Hare J, Moret S, Perretti C, Saba V (2017) Marine species distribution shifts on the U.S. Northeast Continental Shelf under continued ocean warming. Prog Oceanogr 153:24–36.

    2. 2. Johnson C, Runge J, Alexandra Curtis K, Durbin E, Hare J, Incze L, Link J, Melvin G, O’Brien T, Guelpen LV (2011) Biodiversity and ecosystem function in the gulf of maine: Pattern and role of zooplankton and pelagic nekton. PLoS One 6(1).

    3. 3. Lentz SJ (2017) Seasonal warming of the Middle Atlantic Bight Cold Pool. J Geophys Res Ocean 122:941–954.

    4. 4. Miller TJ, Hare JA, Alade LA (2016) A state-space approach to incorporating environmental effects on recruitment in an age-structured assessment model with an application to Southern New England yellowtail flounder. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 73(8): 1261-1270.