PART I | OCT. 25, 2015 Big changes are occurring in one of the fastest-warming spots on Earth – YARMOUTH BAR, NOVA SCOTIA
Sandwiched on a narrow sandbar between Yarmouth’s harbor and the open Gulf of Maine, the fishermen of Yarmouth Bar have long struggled to keep the sea at bay. Nineteenth-century storms threatened to sweep the whole place away, leaving Yarmouth proper’s harbor more open to the elements, prompting the province to build a granite cribwork across the quarter-mile bar, behind which the hamlet’s fishing fleet docks. Global warming has brought rising seas, a two-story-high rock wall to fight them and the hamlet’s designation as one of the communities in the province most threatened by climate change.
Now, snaking around the snout of Nova Scotia and into the Gulf of Maine is a new, unseen threat to Yarmouth Bar and hundreds of coastal communities in Maine, eastern New England and the Maritimes: currents fueling the rapid warming of of the sea.The Gulf of Maine – which extends from Cape Cod in Massachusetts to Cape Sable at the southern tip of Nova Scotia, and includes the Bay of Fundy, the offshore fishing banks, and the entire coast of Maine – has been warming rapidly as the deep-water currents that feed it have shifted.
Since 2004 the gulf has warmed faster than anyplace else on the planet, except for an area northeast of Japan, and during the “Northwest Atlantic Ocean heat wave” of 2012 average water temperatures hit the highest level in the 150 years that humans have been recording them.“We’re really in the crosshairs of climate change right now,” says Andrew Pershing, the chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, who focuses his research on warming in the Gulf of Maine. Pershing says that the warming the Gulf of Maine is currently experiencing is unprecedented, both in its speed and temperature.
As a result, many native species – boreal and subarctic creatures at the southern edges of their ranges – are in retreat. Lobsters populations have been shifting northward and out to sea along our coast as they’ve abandoned Long Island Sound almost entirely. Many of other commercially important bottom-dwelling fish – including cod, pollock and winter flounder – have been withdrawing from Maine and into the southwestern part of the gulf, where the bottom water is cooler.“We’re really in the crosshairs of climate change right now,” says Andy Pershing, chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, who first revealed the alarming pace of the gulf’s recent warming.