Research Publication

Climate impacts on the Gulf of Maine ecosystem: a review of observed and expected changes in 2050 from rising temperatures

By Andrew J. Pershing, Michael A. Alexander, Damian C. Brady, David Brickman, Enrique N. Curchitser, Antony W. Diamond, Loren McClenachan, Katherine E. Mills, Owen C. Nichols, Daniel E. Pendleton, Nicholas R. Record, James D. Scott, Michelle D. Staudinger, Yanjun Wang

Originally published in Elementa: Science of Anthropocene in August 2021



The Gulf of Maine has recently experienced its warmest 5-year period (2015–2020) in the instrumental record. This warming was associated with a decline in the signature subarctic zooplankton species, Calanus finmarchicus. The temperature changes have also led to impacts on commercial species such as Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) and American lobster (Homarus americanus) and protected species including Atlantic puffins (Fratercula arctica) and northern right whales (Eubalaena glacialis). The recent period also saw a decline in Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) recruitment and an increase in novel harmful algal species, although these have not been attributed to the recent warming. Here, we use an ensemble of numerical ocean models to characterize expected ocean conditions in the middle of this century. Under the high CO2 emissions scenario (RCP8.5), the average temperature in the Gulf of Maine is expected to increase 1.1°C to 2.4°C relative to the 1976–2005 average. Surface salinity is expected to decrease, leading to enhanced water column stratification. These physical changes are likely to lead to additional declines in subarctic species including C. finmarchicus, American lobster, and Atlantic cod and an increase in temperate species. The ecosystem changes have already impacted human communities through altered delivery of ecosystem services derived from the marine environment. Continued warming is expected to lead to a loss of heritage, changes in culture, and the necessity for adaptation.

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Affiliated Authors
  • Dan Pendleton

    Dan Pendleton, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Spatial Ecology, Mapping, and Assessment, Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, is a quantitative ecologist who is motivated by the desire conduct science that will inform resource management decisions and advance the conservation status of marine mammals.

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