Fishing is a major economic driver all along the Middle Atlantic Bight, which runs from coastal Massachusetts down to North Carolina. Climate change affects ocean temperatures in this region, affecting populations of fish and seafaring invertebrates, such as lobsters and scallops. However, scientists disagree on the relative impact of atmospheric and oceanic processes on year-to-year temperature changes in the bight. In a recent study, Chen et al. furthered efforts to tease out these relative influences.
The scientists employed a previously developed shelf-wide ocean circulation modeling strategy. They based their model on the Regional Ocean Modeling System and incorporated a wealth of oceanic and atmospheric data, including sea surface temperature measurements collected by satellite. The team tested the model and found that it successfully reproduced observed surface temperatures from 2004 to 2013.
The model indicates that when combined with initial sea surface temperature, atmospheric processes have a greater effect than oceanic processes on year-to-year changes in winter and spring temperatures in the Middle Atlantic Bight. However, over the course of a single year, oceanic advection processes sometimes dominate. This trade-off within a single year makes it difficult for the model to predict spring temperatures on the basis of winter temperatures.
Further research is needed to fully understand the drivers of temperature change in the Middle Atlantic Bight. Nonetheless, these findings could help improve temperature predictions, especially for years of anomalous shifts such as the unusually high temperatures of 2012. As global temperatures continue to rise, improved predictions could help inform ecosystem management and economic decision making in the region. (Journal of Geophysical Research, Oceans: doi:10.1002/2016JC011646, 2016)
—Sarah Stanley, Freelance Writer