Temperature monitoring helps researchers track ocean conditions
Friday, Mar 8th 2013

In research settings involving animals or other forms of life, temperature monitoring is paramount to make sure that external environmental conditions are just right for them to thrive.

This is true in a global context as well, which is why rising ocean temperatures worry so many scientists. In order to better track global water life conditions, researchers are increasingly turning to state-of-the-art water sensors and temperature monitoring equipment to get a better sense of how the oceans are changing and what effects that could have on the planet's ocean-based life forms.

In particular, scientists in the Northeastern United States are leading this charge, as the effects of rising ocean temperatures have been especially acute in this region. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northeast Fisheries Science Center, temperatures from the Gulf of Maine to the Gulf of Hatteras in North Carolina reached their highest ever recorded temperatures during the first half of last year.

From January to June, the average sea temperature along the Eastern Seaboard was more than 51 degrees Fahrenheit, the NEFSC reported. In comparison, average temperatures during the previous 30 years hovered around or below 48 degrees F.

"A pronounced warming event occurred on the Northeast Shelf this spring, and this will have a profound impact throughout the ecosystem," Kevin Friedland, a scientist in the NEFSC's Ecosystem Assessment Program, said last September. "Changes in ocean temperatures and the timing of the spring plankton bloom could affect the biological clocks of many marine species, which spawn at specific times of the year based on environmental cues like water temperature."

How accurate is this data?
Although an onshore temperature sensor can provide scientists with some useful information, the data needed by the NEFSC and other researchers to make accurate regional calculations involves the use of remote temperature monitoring equipment.

In particular, the Penobscot Bay Pilot reported that scientists studying conditions in the Gulf of Maine use a buoy-based system to collect data. For added convenience, the researchers could leverage an alert-based system in which data is automatically sent from each temperature sensor to a computer or mobile device. By consistently collecting data over years and decades, scientists can create an accurate assessment of regional water temperature trends and what they mean for life in the area.

What rising sea temperatures mean for wildlife and humans
Although the shift noted by NEFSC and other researchers working in the area may not seem like much, rising temperatures are already having a noticeable effect on fish populations in the region and on fishermen. For example, Friedland said that Atlantic cod, which used to be abundant throughout the coastal waters along the Northeastern U.S. coast, is now found almost exclusively in the colder waters in the Gulf of Maine and off the coast of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

These trends have also affected shipping conditions, energy usage and recreational habits in this part of the world as well. For example, a nuclear power facility in Connecticut was forced to shut down operations last summer because ocean water used to cool the reactor was too warm, the Penobscot Bay Pilot reported.