The Gulf of Maine: Poster Child for Global Weirding?

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Since it’s snowing this evening, again, I though I’d write something on climate, which I know is not weather. As so often, the great state of Maine, seemingly peripheral, turns out to be central, in this case because of the Gulf that bears its name. Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment (PDF):

[Frequently described as a “sea within a sea”, the Gulf of Maine is] among the most diverse, productive and complex marine temperate areas in the world.… Several political boundaries separate states, provinces and nations in the Gulf of Maine but the natural processes that occur in the region pay no heed to these boundaries. Several species of fish, marine mammals and birds regularly migrate across these political boundaries in their life cycles and the Gulf ’s currents ensure Gulf-wide dispersion of the young of many species. The Gulf of Maine is an important migratory staging area for millions of birds and is a significant summering and wintering region [and not just for humans!].

The Gulf of Maine is also a living laboratory for a gigantic planetary experiment, for which the term “informed consent” seems a wee bit underscoped. The Times-Record of Brunswick writes of changes in the Gulf:

[These changes are] related to global warming, but the exact mechanism is still being debated. Is it atmospheric events, like hurricanes, bringing warm water into the Gulf on a more regular basis? Has the Gulf Stream shifted further west? Has the ocean absorbed all the carbon it can hold from the atmosphere and is responding by warming up? Did Arctic sea ice have a much stronger cooling effect on the Gulf of Maine than previously thought?

The Gulf of Maine is fast becoming a living laboratory for global climate change in a manageable setting, which is a good thing for climate scientists, but a bad thing for the Gulf of Maine and all the creatures that live beneath its waves and on its rocky shores and islands.

So, rather than a definitive theory of everything, this post is one citizen’s effort to try to make sense of the situation. So, to do that, I’ll ask, first, who believes the Gulf of Maine is warming? Only then will I ask, second, why would one believe that the Gulf of Maine is warming? After all, one can come to a conclusion from an accumulation of small data points without completely understanding why the data points have come to be.

Who Believes that the Gulf of Maine is Warming?

There are at least six species or classes of living entities that believe that the Gulf of Maine is warming; at least, were animals capable of belief, we could infer their beliefs from their actions.

Lobsters Believe. As water to the South gets warmer and warmer, it’s easier to catch lobsters up north. The New York Times:

The gulf has been at least two degrees warmer than its historical 50-degree average in each of the last five years. In 2012, it measured four degrees higher, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Thirty years ago, the best lobstering was in Knox County, the center of Maine’s ragged seacoast. Today, the lobstering powerhouses are places like Stonington, an island town two counties closer to the Canadian border. “We did pretty good lobstering — better than the guys down east,” said Mark Brewer, 43, from Boothbay, in the southern half of the state, referring to his hauls 20 years ago. “Now they control all the lobsters.”

One reason may be that lobsters migrate from deep to shallow waters in the spring when the temperature rises; because the gulf warms earlier than in the past, lobsters spend more time close to shore, where they can be trapped. Scientists also suspect that warming has driven away predators. But warm water is also conducive to a bacterial infection that strikes lobsters’ shells. Shell disease is not a problem now in the gulf, but it lurks. The record warmth in 2012 led to an outbreak off the Maine coast, and the infection has sped the collapse of lobster populations farther south.

Smelt Believe. Smelt are moving North, too. New Hampshire Public Radio:

“The information that we are getting from Maine last year was not promising either, but there seem to be more smelt up there this year than there are in either in New Hampshire or Massachusetts, and that may have a lot to do with the warming waters,” [Fish and Game biologist Becky Heuss] says. “The population seems to be moving northward.”

“You’ve had to go up to Maine to catch any fish if you wanted to smelt fish at all,’ [local fisherman Shawn Casey says.

Blue Crabs Believe. Ditto happy blue crabs, also moving in. Red Orbit:

The historic northern limit of this species of crab (also called Atlantic blue or Chesapeake blue) is Cape Cod, Mass. They typically weren’t found in the Gulf of Maine due to its cold Canadian waters. From 2012 to 2014, however, scientists and resource managers observed blue crabs as far north as northern Maine and Nova Scotia, Canada. Johnson hypothesizes that warmer ocean temperatures in 2012 and 2013, which were 1.3°C higher than the previous decade’s average, allowed the crabs to move north.

(Of course, this one change could be “ephemeral.” So far as I am aware, however, this corellated northward movement of species is without precedent, as is the degree of warming itself.)

Shrimp Believe. But shrimp have a sad. Portland Press-Herald:

Marine scientists see the collapse of local shrimp stocks as part of a global pattern reflecting the impact of rising sea temperatures. “All of a sudden, everything was gone,” [said Anne Richards, a fishery biologist at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts]. “It was almost like a vacuum came and sucked up all the shrimp.”

Ice Fisherman Believe. To be fair, this is atmospheric heating. But this too provides a reason to think the Gulf of Maine is warming, since air temperature affects surface ocean temperature. Keep Maine Current:

According to Maine-based scientists, the long-term increase in Maine’s average annual air temperatures since the late 19th century has caused the ice-out date on many of the state’s lakes to occur earlier and earlier in the season, posing threats to the popular sport of ice fishing.

“There is a long-term trend of ice-out happening earlier in the year across many lakes in Maine and many lakes in the northeast,” [said David Hart, a University of Maine biology professor and the director of the George Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions]. “This is related to the long-term trends of increasing air temperatures. Even though in any given year there may be wide variations from that trend – and this year is one of them, ice-out is going to be really late this year in many places – the long-term trend is clear.”

Capitalists Believe. Because markets, right? Portland Press-Herald:

Maine’s interest in the Arctic may seem puzzling, considering its location some 1,500 miles south of the Arctic Circle. But the state’s geographic position at the northeast corner of the nation means ships passing through the Arctic reach Maine ports first, said Louie Porta, director of policy for The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Oceans North Canada campaign.

In the private sector, one of the state’s most prominent business leaders, CEO Peter Vigue of the Pittsfield-based construction giant Cianbro Corp., has been building relationships in Iceland and Greenland, where he traveled extensively last year to scout potential projects. … Eastport stands to gain the most if the Northwest Passage route develops because it has the deepest natural harbor on the East Coast, Vigue said. He sees Eastport as the best port for large ships carrying bulk cargo, such as iron ore. He said the cargo can be shipped across the country on rail lines that can be brought into the port on a state-owned right-of-way.

“[A] state-owned right-of-way.” So the invisible business plan for the East-West Corridor finally appears! (See “Maine in the Crosshairs: The Penobscot, the East-West Corridor, and Globalization”).

To be fair, Vigue is acting on artic ice melt, not warming in the Gulf of Maine. But if you melt the ice in your drink, your drink gets warmer, right? And I bet Vigue is swirling his glass, too!

Adding it up. To conclude with Senator Angus King (I):

“People don’t necessarily say, ‘This is an issue of global climate change,’ ” [Senator] King said. “They do say, ‘Boy, things are changing.’ Part of what has to happen is people have to see the two as connected.

Certainly Peter Vigue sees this already, as (I’m guessing) do the lobsters, smelt, blue crabs, shrimp, and maybe even the ice fisherman. King goes on:

“Of course, there’s a difference between weather and climate and I’m not one to say every single snowstorm or hurricane or severe winter is an indication that this is part of a global phenomenon. When you add it up, you can’t really avoid the conclusion that something’s going on out there and it’s having an impact on everything from the Iditarod to catching sea horses in lobster traps on the coast of Maine.”

And “adding it up”[1] is what this section of the post has tried to do. Now let’s look for something that ties all these individual datapoints together.

Why Would One Believe that the Gulf of Maine is Warming?.

Did I forget mention that the Gulf of Maine is complicated? It is. From Maine’s Climate Future: 2015 Update:

The Gulf of Maine is unique for many reasons, one of which is the way the semi-enclosed basin of the Gulf is influenced by dynamic interactions of the ocean and atmosphere. Gulf of Maine temperatures reflect the interplay between colder, fresher water coming from the north; warmer, saltier water entering from the south; and an intense annual cycle of warm air temperatures in summer and cold air in winter. Since 1982, the average sea surface temperature increased at a rate of 0.05 °F (0.03 °C) per year, slightly faster than the increase experienced by the global ocean (Figure 12). While the long-term warming signal is clear, the Gulf of Maine has the potential for significant departures from the overall trend. Since 2004, the rate of warming accelerated to 0.41 °F (0.23 °C) per year, a rate that further analysis has shown to be faster than 99% of the world’s oceans. The warm period in the 1950s shows how variable conditions can be in the Gulf of Maine. The warm temperatures around 1950 occurred during a time when average ocean temperatures were colder than today. Like the 1950s, the recent rapid increase in Gulf of Maine temperatures is the result of a natural cycle of variability, but now it is layered on an accelerating long-term warming trend. Adding this variability on top of the predicted warming shows the potential for extreme temperatures in the future. Changes in Gulf of Maine temperatures are also affected by related changes in atmosphere-ocean circulation.

That’s a lot of variables! So, perhaps it really is best to think of the Gulf of Maine as a laboratory, rather than trying to invent a model. (Can there really be a science of uniqueness?) That said, in the spirit of Maine’s Climate Future, and as an attempt to be a good citizen, and because I think about climate change a lot, because of the fuel bill (too big) and also the growing season (all too short, but lengthening), let me risk the Homeric laughter of actual scientists and try to build a very simple model of my own. Anyhow, on the warming, here’s a handy chart, from an actual scientist based on several models:


(Note that I’m somewhat with skeptics on those sweeping upward curves on the right. Those are all projections! Nevertheless, even when you throw out the scary projections, you’ll notice the steepening slopes of the green line (acceleration after 1982) and the red line (increased acceleration after 2004), and it sure looks like “something’s going on out there,” as Angus King said.)

So let’s start with the currents in the Gulf of Maine. (What follows is a ludicrous oversimplification, because the atmosphere figures also, as we have just seen, as does the configuration of the seabed, which channels the currents, and the temperature at various depths, and the chaotic interplay between currents in this system and those outside it.) That said, here’s a handy chart[2]:


Labrador Current flowing into the Gulf of Maine from the North; Gulf Stream passing by on the East. So, what do we know about each current?

Labrador Current. Well, we know that the Arctic ice cap is melting. Here’s a lovely anecdote from Harper’s (again, buy the print edition). “Rotten Ice”:

I first went to Greenland in 1993 to get above tree line. … A chance meeting with a couple from west Greenland drew me north for a summer and part of the next dark winter. When I returned the following spring, the ice had failed to come in. I had planned to travel up the west coast by dogsled on the route that Knud Rasmussen took during his 1916–18 expedition. I didn’t know then that such a trip was no longer possible, that the ice on which Arctic people and animals had relied for thousands of years would soon be nearly gone.

For those who want more than “anecdote,” the National Snow and Ice Data Center:

On February 25, 2015, Arctic sea ice extent appeared to have reached its annual maximum extent, marking the beginning of the sea ice melt season. This year’s maximum extent not only occurred early; it is also the lowest in the satellite record.

The Bangor Daily News concludes (pro-port pom-pom waving deleted):

Arctic summer sea ice extent and thickness have decreased markedly in recent years. … All indications are that Arctic summer sea ice will continue to decrease over coming years.

So, again: As the ice in your drink melts, your drink gets warmer. And so, I’m guessing, with the Labrador current, which comes from the melting Arctic ice cap.

Gulf Stream. As it turns out, the melting ice cap is also causing the Gulf Stream to slow down. 27East (“Your Connection to the Hamptons”). This is complicated, too:

A study recently published in the scientific journal Nature [here] notes that the East Coast of the United States, from the New York Bight northward, saw a leap in sea levels of nearly 4 inches in just two years, in 2009 and 2010, while the standard observed average sea level rise worldwide has been only about 1 inch every 10 years. To the north, in Maine, the jump was closer to 5 inches over the same span.

The cause, the study notes, was not a more rapid localized version of global warming, but rather a dramatic change in the rate of the ocean current known as the Gulf Stream, which flows past the Northeast about 200 miles off the coast of Long Island..

The average speed at which the Gulf Stream is flowing northward off the Eastern Seaboard slowed by nearly 30 percent in the same period in which tide gauges along the coastline recorded the spike in sea levels. … “As currents speed up or slow down, the sea water going across the currents actually tilts … so it’s higher on one side than on the other,” Dr. Bokuniewicz explained. “Coriolis force pushes the Gulf Stream to the right, so the pressure on the right side is greater than on the left. That pushes it up on one side and down on the other..

“So if the Gulf Stream slows down, and is pushing less hard on the right side, the sea level goes up along the coast,” he continued.

Which to my simple mind, means that warmer Gulf Stream water is heading west toward the Atlantic Coast.[3]

Q.E.D. So, warmer Labrador Current + warmer Gulf Stream = warmer Gulf of Maine. Q.E.D.


Readers, I know that global wa— er, climate ch– er, global weirding is contentious, and the mighty juggernaut that is Naked Capitalism always ends up with some trolls splattered on its windshield.

So I would appeal to you to focus your comments on method, rather than policy-impyling outcome. As in part 1: Are you seeing signs of global weirding in your locale, like other creatures heading north? Or as in part 2… Where all I can really say is: Are there any oceanographers in the house?

Oh, and it gives me the creeps that Peter Vigue and the squillionaires he’s fronting for see global weirding as a business opportunity, and as a chance to jam a railroad — and no doubt plenty of train bombs — through the Penobscot watershed that is Maine’s heart. Not in my our back yard!


[1] I forgot puffins and scallops. Sorry.

[2] NOAA has a bigger and better diagram of the entire “NES LME” (Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem) which goes all the way down past New Jersey, here. And then there’s this, which I’m leaving out of the main body of the post to keep it simple:

Apparently the annual influx of cold Labrador Current water into the Gulf of Maine is fickle. It is very difficult to observe because the saltier cold ocean water flows in beneath the warmer fresher outgoing water. Scientists refer to this changing phenomenon as “barn door open,” “barn door closed” and “barn door ajar.” The recent year when lobsters molted 2-3 weeks early was a “barn door closed” year. There was little cooling in the Gulf of Maine by the Labrador Current. Scientists have yet to find a pattern in the annual sequencing of barn door open, closed or ajar. It is as chaotic as mapping the cooling rates of liquid coffee portions within a cup. You know the surface will cool first but how that cooler water sinks into and exchanges heat with the rest of the fluids is random.

[3] “Atmospheric events” could play a role, too.

NOTE I’m saying “global weirding” as opposed to the anodyne and defensive “climate change,” and also as opposed to “global warming,” since given our this last very weird winter, it’s clear that everybody isn’t getting warmer all of the time.


As the map of the extremely weird February 2015 shows, the nation with the greatest power to stabilize runaway climate change, the United States, is also, at least this year, the subset of humanity — helpfully marked as “The Zone of Irony” — least likely to experience and perceive, and therefore most enabled to deny, the realities of an average increase in temperature, worldwide. It’s almost as if Gaia, or whatever Being takes care of the planet, has clamped blue fingers over humanity’s eyes, the better to frogmarch us, unresisting, over a cliff into a flaming pit of extinction. Just saying.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Sittingstill

    Its interesting to down-scale predictions – but some more meat on the bones in a way that is more relevant to people who live in specific areas. I’ve not seen many efforts to comprehensively compile and fully integrate climate change research. Even IPCC projections ignores most of the positive feedback loops that are now emerging because they are essentially non-linear responses and hence not quantifiably predictable. Because of non-linear responses from positive feedback loops that are not integrated into projections, projections are almost certain to surprise on the upside. A great and continually updated synthesis of research is here. But don’t read it unless you are feeling emotionally resilient.

    1. wbgonne

      Great link. A developed industrial society cannot adapt to a dynamic climate system undergoing accelerating change. And that’s not even accounting for “abrupt” climate change.

    2. Paper Mac

      Guy McPherson is a doomer. Given the way he treats data, it’s no surprise he’s no longer publishing- his “projections” are far more absurd (human extinction in 20 years, ma!! trust me! while poor guys like Michael Ruppert are knocking themselves off because they really believe this garbage..) than anything Lambert is skeptical of above.

      The reason people don’t “down-scale predictions” is because the predictive accuracy of our models is very poor on local scales.

      1. wbgonne

        Guy McPherson is a doomer.

        I don’t know McPherson or his claims for human extinction in 20 years or suicides he may have induced, but what if he is right about the warming feedback loops we may be unleashing? McPherson is hardly the only person discussing such possibilities. More to the point: Why are AGW-deniers like the one Lambert linked to taken seriously no matter how specious and manipulative their claims, while those who discuss the worst-case AGW scenarios dismissed out-of-hand? The precautionary principle suggests the reverse is the correct approach. So does common sense.

        Even more to the point: The title of Lambert’s linked blog post is Baseless Alarmism: Global Warming’s Impact on Gulf of Maine Driving Away Lobsters and Fish and the post states that the Gulf of Maine warming is just “natural variations in ocean temperatures,” while AGW’s purported role is “[j]ust another example of unfounded alarmism.” OK then, nothing to worry about, nothing to be done, just nature at work and god’s will. That nonsense is to be taken seriously while warnings of unforeseen climate feedback loops are deemed absurd? I don’t think so.

      2. gaylord

        There is no absolute need for models, since observations & measurements of Arctic sea ice loss, recorded data of methane emissions, and massive species die-offs are enough for knowledgeable scientists to pronounce that catastrophic runaway climate change is currently underway. Name-calling, innuendo, exclamations, simplistic dismissal of evidence, and snide remarks do not discredit them, but rather they discredit the nasty authors of comments like Paper Mac who claim to know better than those who spend their lives studying the many phenomena that are causing accelerated disruption of the stability of our one and only earth habitat.

  2. wbgonne

    It’s anthropogenic global warming. The planet is getting hotter because humans are putting heat-trapping carbon into the atmosphere. Local weather effects will vary tremendously as the planet warms — due to the kind of systemic phenomena you mention — but that does not mean the planet isn’t getting hotter. It is. Since anthropogenic global warming is a mouthful, call it AGW or simply global warming as shorthand. But why make it more complicated by focusing the name on the local weather impacts rather than the global effect?

    All that nomenclature aside, the warming is evident to everyone who gardens, fishes or is sentient. Lobster moving notheast. Shrimp collapsing. Gulf of Maine blue crabs?! If that doesn’t get it through it ain’t getting through.

    One last point: while you are correct that the U.S. does have outsized resources to mitigate the effects of AGW, the American Atlantic coast — up to the Gulf of Maine — appears set for the most extreme sea-level rise. And American riches, situated largely along the coasts, are particularly vulnerable.

    1. jrs

      And it’s obvious as well to anyone who lives in the same place for a decade or so. Of course in our mobile society maybe few do. All this mobility blocks the recognition of reality that staying and watching it change would bring. Of course to maintain the proper denial you also have to repress all the other data like what’s happening around the world.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Even more, a family doesn’t live in the same place (except for Richistani enclaves like Kennebunkport, but they have people to notice these things).

  3. Mark Alexander

    Here in central Vermont, we’re seeing some signs of birds moving north. This “spring” (still a foot of snow on the ground in some places, and it’s snowing this morning), we’ve had a cardinal pair for the very first time. We’re also hearing from birders down in the Hanover NH area about cardinals moving north.

    I don’t know if tropical storms count as “creatures”, but they seem to be moving north as well. Vermont has seen many more of these huge, flood-causing storms in the past decade than what was considered normal in the previous decades. At least, that is what I’m hearing from old-timers around here. (I’ve only been here five years.)

    1. petal

      Hi Mark, a Hanoverian here. The summers have changed-there used to be maybe a few days above 85-90 and that was it. Now there are long stretches of it and it seems more the norm than the exception. It is getting to the point it is too hot for me to spend time outside in the garden, and I’m only in my 30s. And yes, the storms hitting our area are definitely getting stronger. Sugaring hasn’t been going well, either. Cheers.

      1. susan the other

        I don’t know what the implication of crows is, but our hillside was invaded by crows last year and they displaced the magpies and the grossbeaks completely. We still have hawks, but fewer. And we still have eagles. So the crows are very interesting because they are outsmarting the magpies who are very smart birds. And this year was the earliest spring I can remember, which followed the mildest winter I can remember. In addition to this I am noticing that we have almost no squirrels, no chipmunks and almost no mice. (I see no traces of them). And, amazingly, almost no spiders. It appears to be a food chain thing.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Now that is interesting, visualizing the food chain, methodologically. I don’t know how these small rodents make it through the winter. Do they store stuff? If so, maybe something happened to the stuff?

          Adding, wait ’til you see the crows wearing tool belts with little tools on them. I swear there were rats in my Philly alley that did that.

  4. Steve H.

    One nuance on “warmer Gulf Stream water is heading west toward the Atlantic Coast.” If the shift comes from the slowdown of the current, the warm water may be closer, but there’s less of it. Analogous to running an electric heater that suffers an amperage drop. Pushing the analogy further, the increased heat in the Gulf waters are like a voltage increase, like putting in a 220-volt line for a dryer, where normal outlets are 110-volt. But the meltwater in the north is causing more resistance to flow, so the total available energy at the end of the line (the Gulf of Maine) is not necessarily increasing.

    1. wbgonne

      The linked article is behind a paywall but the abstract says the cause of the examined seaweed blooms was “Coastal eutrophication,” which I believe means excess nitrogen, and is typically caused by landwater runoff. IOW it is caused by pollution. The abstract doesn’t mention water temperature but I believe warm water is an aggravating factor in algae blooms so also for seaweed perhaps.

      Sorry to hear about the seaweed and I hope it doesn’t get too bad. Those beaches in Tulum are extraordinary.

  5. ambrit

    Unscientific observations, I know, but all the people I know who hang out hummingbird feeders have been remarking about how “messed up” the hummingbird migration has been for several years now. A visible drop in bird populations. We don’t know if it is a general migration shift, a population decline, or a localized shift out of urban heat islands to cooler rural locales.
    I’ve already put tomatoes, cayenne peppers, parsley, several varieties of squash, basil, and flowers outside, in the ground. We are looking at highs in the mid eighties and lows in the sixties this week. So far, we’ve resisted the urge to turn the air conditioning on, but several neighbours have done so once daily temperatures hit high eighties last week.
    On a slightly associated note:

    1. Steve H.

      Thanks for the link, led to many things I did not know, including:

      “With approximately 800 species that are C4-plants, the Amaranthaceae represent the largest group with this photosynthesis pathway.”

      I had a brilliant red amaranth that looked like a coxcomb at one time, Oh wait, “Celosia /siːˈloʊʃiə/[2] is a small genus of edible and ornamental plants in the amaranth family, Amaranthaceae”, that’s even less I don’t know!

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      Thanks for that excellent link on what to plant!

      Maine has always had hummingbirds, but the population in my garden has been increasing for the past three years. Now, that may be because they’re territorial, the little dive bombers, and I’ve put in more bee balm each year. Unsure.

      I forget where you are located?

      1. ambrit

        Hattiesburg Mississippi. Roughly one quarter of the state up from the Gulf, in the middle, east to west. Oddly enough, we have been experiencing cooler winters than usual, for longer durations. (All anecdotal readings, I’m afraid.) That’s how “deniers” get away with their counter panegyrics. The climate is changing, but in unaccustomed ways.
        We have suspected that the hummingbird ranges are expanding northward. The best source of hummingbird information I’ve found yet is Cornell University. The University of Maine has a good handle on hummingbird behavior too. See:
        Happy birding!

  6. Clive

    Firstly, on a factual basis, England is definitely if not “getting warmer” (which is a generalisation), it is certainly experiencing more higher temperature anomalies than lower temperature anomalies.

    Being born in 1970, I really struggle to remember a winter which could genuinely be described as “severe” (1979 is the last one; 2010 was only remarkable for the fact that we had lying snow for a week or so which only highlighted how snow free winters had become in the south of the country). Conversely, I can think of many years of mild winters and hot summers.

    Secondly, and leaving the factual behind and doing the anecdotal rounds, I went to the garden centre over the weekend to get some shrubs to fill in a border. I go to a small independent, where you can talk to the owner who actually grows the plants, knows about them and — more importantly for this discussion — has to reimburse any failures (they have an “if it dies within 2 years you get your money back” refund policy). I ended up buying:

    Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’ (classed as H4 – Hardy through most of the UK (-10 to -5 centigrade))
    Leptospermum ‘Lambertii’ (classed as H3 – Hardy in coastal and relatively mild parts of the UK (-5 to 1))

    … which were on sale, alongside Callistemon citrinus (H3), Ceanothus ‘Californian lilac’ (H4) and
    Crinodendron hookerianum (H4).

    I asked if these frost-tender plants could really be successful in southern England now. To which the answer was, yes, it’s been 20 years since we had a winter which was bad enough to completely kill any of these. You couldn’t, I was informed, expect to get one established in an exposed site but — given a little shelter — they should be fine. The owner said he was looking to start selling more (as he put it) of such “exotics” because they were popular to us Brits who think we’re in southern California or the Mediterranean if we have these in our gardens. If the weather keeps in the pattern we’ve got used to, maybe it’ll feel like we are. Which is good. Water stress (yes, scarcely believably, we have to have a desalination plant to keep us going in drought conditions) less so.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Tracking “exotics” would be a good proxy for, er, climate change, I would think. Maybe NCers could do some citizen science… If there were enough of us and we had a good protocol…

      1. different clue

        So would the observed dates of various visible and notatable biological events from year to year . . .
        when various long-time local species bloom, when this or that appears. These observations have already been being done but more could always be done. I read somewhere that Thoreau kept journals about when different flowers first started and then stopped flowering in his woods. The same flowers now start and stop earlier than they did in Thoreau’s time.

        In general, this observational science of who does what when in nature is called phenology.

  7. LaRuse

    An anecdote from Central Virginia/River City RVa – thanks to two consecutive stunningly cold (equals weird) winters, our beloved and semi-famous Great Blue heron rookery has vanished this year. Wildlife specialists have gone on record that when a colony moves on, they don’t come back. I will miss those spectacular birds.
    Two or three summers ago, our purple martin colony vanished. Their numbers had been so large and there were so many, the City even put on a purple martin festival. No longer.

  8. Northeaster

    Mt. Desert Narrows/Frenchman Bay areas are still cold as heck and no, I still will not go swimming there, I don’t care what the crustaceans and fish say.

  9. Jeremy Grimm

    There was an editorial in the January 16, 2012 Science Magazine titled “POTUS and the Fish.” The editorial describes a four-color photograph from the New York Times (8 July, 2011) which shows President Bush with a large striped bass he just caught in the Gulf of Maine in the vicinity of his estate in Kennebunkport, Maine. “… the president, without his knowledge, has just captured a fish with a message.”

    I recall a story I heard in the middle 1980’s from a postman I shared beers with in a local bar late Winter in Northern Vermont. The conversation of the moment related to the strange Winter of that year and recent Winters. The postman said he used to work at a small post office on the coast of Maine several years back. When he worked there he drove the mail between his small town and nearby town traveling a long twisty, often icy, road that followed the coast. He said you could look across the inlet and plainly see the other town from the post office building, but by road it was a long trip. Old timers at the post office told him they used to deliver the winter mail to the next town by taking a snowmobile across the inlet, but the inlet stopped freezing regularly sometime in the 1950’s.

  10. cassiodorus

    Most abrupt climate change “news” is cathected negatively. The point is to make people depressed so that the “news” is not actionable and nothing about the existing system changes. A proactive approach would start with applied ecology, rather than ecology per se, because there needs to be a proactive science of doing something to match the merely-descriptive science of what is out there. But, as far as I know, the only applied ecology to get much in the way of scientific progress has been agroecology, the science of sustainable farming.

    Any further thoughts?

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I’d say permaculture, of course. What I’m not aware of is material that says, in essence, “If you did X, you would contribute Y.” If anybody out there knows of such, please post!

      On being pro-active: I view stopping the East-West Highway as being very pro-active (in addition to what I do via home insulation and efficiency measures).

      However, I think it would be useful if more people took the approach I’m doing here, and asked “What’s happening with climate in my area?” so that we had various frames to fit our data points into. Not sure how to do that; I guess I’m asking for “citizen science” above the observational/data gathering level.

      1. cassiodorus

        As far as I can tell, permaculture is not a science, but rather an intuitively-guided way of doing things that seems to have attached itself, for the most part, to landscaping. And as far as I can tell, the permaculturists do not have a meaningful critique of capitalism. They think like landscapers — if I can get access to land, I can do X with it. The matter of access to land is a secondary thing — whereas in a system which treats land as another commodity to be used up and thrown out, access is a byproduct of political and economic power.

        As you suggest, though, a basic concept of “If you did X, you would contribute Y” is needed, and needed in application to all sorts of habitats which are not to be landscaped. To some extent, what we need is on the order of what Gregory Cajete called “native science” (in a book of that name) or what in the literature is called “traditional ecological knowledge,” updated for the era of abrupt climate change. There is also this idea of the “environmentalism of the poor” which Joan Martinez-Alier contributes to a book of that name.

        Martinez-Alier has another concept which may itself be useful to Maine’s climate change situation — “ecological rights.” If people are to manage ecosystems rather than merely consuming them and throwing them out, they’ll need to have some ecological rights which can be transferred from one generation to the next. Perhaps the small-time seafood harvesters which you mention above can be mobilized by a sense of ecological rights?

        I would recommend

      2. susan the other

        Usually what’s happening in my area (northern Utah) is swept in on the jet stream. Dust and haze; less clear sunlight, but also a nice warm blanket at night. China controls the upper atmosphere in the western United States, I’m convinced. No global warming is local by my experience. So in terms of “method” to fix the climate, at least stop it from deteriorating any further, I wish we could all take what we know now and somehow reclaim the “heart” people had back in the early 1900s when they thought they could invent stuff that would change the world and make them rich. I want inventors to invent stuff that completely replaces cars and keeps the air nice and clean.

      3. jrs

        Locally it’s been the hottest soonest in the year ever, no recent years even compare, winters get milder and milder, heat hits sooner, weather getting more and more unpleasantly hot and hard to tolerate. To think this climate was once considered a pleasant one … it is many days but the days of intolerable heat get more and more frequent.

        But then that’s southern CA, and to say that California has climate change problems is to state things people already know I think. We don’t even have any water. There’s no snow in the snowmelt as Jerry Brown saw, rains are not only down but record heat means it evaporates any water we do get. California poppies die and don’t make it through a season.

    2. different clue

      Some agronomists and soil scientists and etc. are learning to study the injection of carbon into the soil space between plantroots by those very plantroots. Part of a plant’s photosynthate sugars is sweated out through the roots just as flowers sweat out nectar. These excreted sugars feed mycorrhizal fungi and other things which use part of that energy donation to harvest minerals from soil particles and send those minerals back into the roots on which the mycorrhyzae grow. Bacteria and things also eat and metabolize these root-excreted sugars.
      These soil microbes work part of the sugar molecules up into bigger more stable carbon chain molecules which
      can persist in the soil.

      Agronomists are beginning to learn what plants and mixtures of plants will support what microbes who will work up root-sweated sugar into stable multicarbon bio-molecules. Working farmers are also doing it. Articles are being written. The suspicion is spreading that the right kind of plant-handling will cause plant-mixtures to suck back down the carbon from the air and re-inject it into the soil where some is stored as humus precursor molecules. Articles are being written about this.

  11. vidimi

    the drink with ice analogy is interesting. as long as there is any ice at all left in your glass, your drink stays a constant cool. but once all that ice melts, not only will your drink heat up quickly, but it will never be cool again.

  12. NOTaREALmerican

    Luckily, I’ve only got 20 years left to live. And no kids.

    I’m sure the pathological optimists will think of something to fix this “challenge” tho.

  13. armchair

    A fun anecdote from outside, “The Zone of Irony,” Western Washington. See the link for the story, “Warmer season wakes hibernating bears early,” at

    The opening sentence is careful to hedge against global warming trolls (emphasis added), “Everyone probably can agree the Seattle area had a pretty warm winter and spring kind of came early.” So, there are a bunch of bears running around asking when the berry harvest is coming, and why won’t you refill your bird feeder already?

    Also, there is way less snow than usual. The Pacific NW is waiting for California to dip its straw into the water up here. What choice will there be? I don’t recommend the following link, but provide it to prove that the ski industry is a wreck this year due to being mostly shut-down all season.

    1. jrs

      Well Californians don’t have to dip their straw there, we could just all move to Washington ….

      Really though the alternatives aren’t great. Maybe there is sufficient water in California for just the urban population (with only 15-20% of water use). People talk about moving agriculture to other states, but that is not what is likely to happen. We don’t live in #fullcommunism but #fullneoliberalism. What will actually happen is agriculture will mostly be outsourced to Mexico etc. (maybe the TPP will help). Those countries have far lower standards generally for pesticide use and treatment of labor than the U.S., whose standards aren’t great to begin with either. Enjoy your poison food produced by slaves America! If we had a national farm policy well yes like I said if we had socialism ..

    2. Will

      Another Western Washington bit of anecdata – last fall I was talking with an orchardist at one of Seattle’s farmers’ markets, whose trees are up in the western Cascade foothills. He’s been there about two decades, and not only are the summers starting to warm (though still not enough for him to grow the same varieties as they do east of the mountains), but his annual rainfall has skyrocketed — which is also a hazard for fruit trees. He’s worrying about how to replace his stock with trees that have rootstock better adapted to waterlogged conditions, so they don’t rot in the ground during the winters.

    1. susan the other

      You might not wanna hear that part Lambert. At least from the West Coast. They have just officially detected fukushima radiation (signature cesium 134) along Canada’s shores. They speculate that what is killing starfish and now sea urchins into goo and extinction “might be” radioisotopes from Fukushima permeating the ocean’s currents. Sea mammals are dying in mass. And the list goes on an on if you have been following it. There’s warm, and then there’s hot.

      1. ToivoS

        The Fukushima Cs137 that has been detected in the eastern Pacific is NOT killing any marine life. The levels are simply too low. As a point of reference the becquerel count of naturally occurring K40 (similar chemistry and radiation intensity) is about 100,000 times higher than the Cs137.

  14. ToivoS

    The intense cold that the Easter US experienced this winter is not an indication that North America was colder. In fact Alaska and the Yukon experienced warmer winters this winter. Those two events were related — all of that cold arctic air came south this year and was replaced with warmer air from the North Pacific. I wouldn’t be surprised if the average temperature over North America will again be well over average.

    1. Yves Smith

      I lived in NYC in the 1980s. This winter was snowier, but certainly not colder than a normal 1980s winter. In fact, it was normal then to have at least one 2-3 day stretch when the daily high was below 5 degrees. We didn’t have that last winter.

  15. Oregoncharles

    ” As the ice in your drink melts, your drink gets warmer. ”
    False. (Basic chemistry:) As long as there’s ice in the water, it will be at freezing. As the ice melts, there’s a change in the rate; at some point, mixing may not be vigorous enough for all the water to be the same temperature.
    Evidently the GoM is a mixing zone, so the latter phenomenon may well apply. And we may not be talking about ice at all, but a cold current that might be getting warmer or losing strength (affecting the mixing rate).
    The Big One: what happens if the Atlantic Conveyor, which both currents are part of, fails altogether? If the Labrador Curent then dominates, it’ll get COLDER – hard on those warm-water species moving in. And on Lambert’s fuel bill.
    But there’s more than enough chaos in the system to make it unpredictable. Mixing = turbulence – one of the most chaotic phenomena.

  16. steelhead23

    Very interesting thought piece Lambert. I am not an oceanographer, but the changes in ocean currents are reminiscent of changes in the subtropical and polar jet streams in the upper atmosphere. In short, these systems are weakening. It is the weakness of the polar jet that allows the cold polar air to slide into the upper midwest and east coast of the U.S. The weakness of the subtropical jet also allowed a blocking ridge of high pressure to form along our west coast most of this winter wet season. pushing storms north and south of the U.S. To further ruin your sleep, the majority of CO2 being emitted by humans is being absorbed in the ocean, where it forms carbonic acid, making it much harder for oysters and other calcareous shelled creatures to form shells. Acidification of our oceans is an existential threat that seems to be overwhelmed by climate concerns. I happen to believe that acidification and circulation issues in the ocean are far larger issues that rising air temps and rising ocean levels. As regards the existential risk, read this:

  17. Anonymous

    An interesting read in regards to this:

    Science fiction/fantasy and some roughly current politics on an apparently well researched scientific basis in terms of the background.

    Methane in arctic tundra, methane hydrate in Atlantic continental shelves. The Storegga slide. The end of the Gulf Stream.

    We may be closer to a tipping point and some very unfortunate and irreversible consequences than most believe.

    The thought of Peter Vigue’s ships sinking into a froth of methane bubbles may not be enough to compensate.

  18. vidimi

    years ago when i was still living in canada, i used to fish somewhat regularly and the place i used to fish most often, maybe a half-dozen times a year, was the georgian bay in lake huron.

    even as far back as 20-10 years ago, i would notice invasive species moving in from the south. striped bass were beginning to drive out the walleye and alligator gars were outcompeting the native pike and muskie.

    haven’t been there in about a decade, but it became near impossible to catch anything on a day trip.

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