02 May 2, 2013
NOAA reports that 2012 brought the warmest recorded sea surface temperatures in 150 years for the US east coast between Cape Hatteras, N.C. and the Gulf of Maine.
Using satellite and ship-board measurements, NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) reported that average surface temperatures reached 57.2 F (14 C) in 2012, beating the previous record set in 1951. 2012's temperature rise also marked the largest single-year increase since records began in 1854 and one of only five times that average temperatures have jumped by more than 1.8 F (1 C).
“Changes in ocean temperatures and the timing and strength of spring and fall plankton blooms could affect the biological clocks of many marine species, which spawn at specific times of the year based on environmental cues like water temperature,” said Kevin Friedland, a scientist in the NEFSC Ecosystem Assessment Program, in a press statement.
Research has shown that rising ocean temperatures as a result of climate change may also pose a threat to the ocean's single-celled phytoplankton, such as algae. They are not only the foundation of the marine food chain, Climate Central explains. They also "consume about half of the carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere."
Scientists aren't certain of the extent to which rising temperatures will impact these organisms, or how quickly they will be able to adapt, but slowed phytoplankton growth could mean more CO2 remaining in the atmosphere.
Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are at their highest level in human history and continue to rise.
Increased carbon dioxide in the air -- as a result of human activities like the burning of fossil fuels -- also means more CO2 dissolved in the world's oceans. NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco told the Associated Press in 2012, ocean acidification is climate change's "equally evil twin."
"It's yet another reason to be very seriously concerned about the amount of carbon dioxide that is in the atmosphere now and the additional amount we continue to put out," she told AP. "It is going to be a long time before we can stabilize and turn around the direction of change simply because it's a big atmosphere and it's a big ocean."
Rising sea level
Another report  from Georgetown, S.C. said:
Effects of higher sea level are very clear down a winding dirt road in Georgetown County where acres of what was once a forested wetland have morphed into a salt marsh of dead trees jutting toward the sky.
"When you go into the field, you really see a lot of trees dying. That's the first thing that catches your eye," said Alex Chow, who teaches biosystems engineering at Clemson University's Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science at Hobcaw Barony, a wildlife refuge northeast of Georgetown.
Chow and two other colleagues at the institute used aerial photos to map how the salt water has advanced into freshwater Strawberry Swamp from nearby Winyah Bay.
Their study found that over the past six decades, the amount of salt marsh in the area has increased from about 4 acres to more than 16 acres. The study was published in December in "Wetland Science and Practice," the quarterly journal of the international Society of Wetland Scientists.
"Over long periods – and what we looked at is over 60 years – the maritime forest retreats at approximately the same rate sea level rises," said Tom Williams, a professor emeritus of forestry and natural resources who is a co-author.
Bo Song, assistant professor of forestry and natural resources, also contributed to the study.
The study notes that along the state's north coast, the sea level rise has average 3 to 4 millimeters a year during the past century or so.
William Conner, a professor of forestry and natural resources at the institute, said that what is happening in Strawberry Swamp is similar to what is happening throughout the Southeast, where the shorelines tend to be flattened. The dead trees along the Cape Fear River in Wilmington are an example, he said. In areas where rivers are dredged for shipping, it also makes it easier for salt water to impinge on freshwater areas.
"It's been a little more dramatic in recent years," he said.
"Based on the calculations in this study, you can see it's happening much faster in the past two decades," Chow said. More