WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Record high sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic off the U.S. Northeast have changed cod distribution and could affect all marine life, U.S. scientists say.
Above-average temperatures were found in all parts of the Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem, from the ocean bottom to the sea surface, and the above average temperatures extended beyond the shelf to the Gulf Stream, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration reported Tuesday.
Researchers at NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center said Atlantic cod were in an ongoing shift northeastward from their historic distribution center.
The annual 2012 spring plankton bloom was intense, started earlier and lasted longer than average, they said, with implications for marine life from the smallest creatures to the largest marine mammals like whales.
"A pronounced warming event occurred on the Northeast Shelf this spring, and this will have a profound impact throughout the ecosystem," said Kevin Friedland, a scientist in the NEFSC's Ecosystem Assessment Program. "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."
The average sea surface temperature exceeded 51 degrees Fahrenheit during the first half of 2012, exceeding the previous record high in 1951, the scientists said.
The ecosystem extends from Cape Hatteras, N.C., to the Gulf of Maine.