Ocean temperatures in the North Atlantic hit an all-time high last year, raising concerns about the effects of global warming on one of the most sensitive and productive ecosystems in the world.
Sea ice off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador was below normal for the tenth consecutive year and the water temperature outside St. John’s Harbour was the highest on record in 2004, according to a report released Wednesday by the federal Fisheries Department.
The ocean surface about seven kilometres off St. John’s, which ranged from slightly less than 0 C in February to 15 C in August, averaged 1.1 C above normal, the highest in the 59 years the department has been compiling records.
And bottom temperatures were 0.9 C higher than normal, the highest recorded since 1966. The average temperature near the bottom, calculated since 1946 at 176 metres, is normally about 0 C to 0.5 C.
“A one-degree temperature anomaly on the Grand Banks is pretty significant in the bottom areas, where temperatures only range a couple of degrees throughout the year,” said Eugene Colbourne, an oceanographer with the Fisheries Department.
Water temperatures were above normal right across the North Atlantic last year, from Newfoundland to Greenland, Iceland and Norway.
The Newfoundland data is another wake-up call on climate change, say environmentalists.
Anchorage, Alaska, has seen annual snowfall shrink in the past decade, high river temperatures are killing off millions of spawning salmon in British Columbia and northern climates around the world have noticed warming.
Meanwhile, ocean temperatures have risen around the globe, and species are already dying, said Bill Wareham, acting director of marine conservation for the Vancouver-based David Suzuki Foundation.
“I don’t think there’s a question about whether these changes are happening,” Wareham said.
But “everyone’s quite shocked at the speed at which these things are changing.”
Air temperatures in the Newfoundland region were also higher than normal, but Colbourne said the results are not conclusive.
Water temperatures in the cold Labrador current were actually below normal levels. And while the other temperatures were record highs, a similar warming trend occurred in the 1960s, Colbourne said.
“We really can’t say for sure if what we’re seeing in Newfoundland waters is a consequence of global warming, when we’ve only got 50 years of data or so,” Colbourne said.
“It may be related to global warming but, then again, it may be just the natural cycle that we see in this area of the world.”
Still, climate change is high on the agenda this week at the G8 meeting in Scotland, where British Prime Minister Tony Blair hopes to persuade the world’s wealthiest nations to sign a deal on climate change despite bitter opposition from the United States.
Going into the meetings, U.S. President George Bush ruled out any Kyoto-type deal but did say that global warming is an issue that needs to be dealt with.
In an interview with a British television station, Bush conceded, for the first time, that human activity was “to some extent” to blame.
Source: Dene Moore CNEWS