Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 31 Issue 02

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Volume 31, No. 2
Pages 152 - 161

Evidence for Adaptation from the 2016 Marine Heatwave in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean

Andrew J. Pershing Katherine E. MillsAlexa M. DaytonBradley S. FranklinBrian T. Kennedy
Article Abstract

Extreme environmental events are often catalysts for adaptive changes. Like many such events, the 2012 marine heatwave in the Gulf of Maine revealed unexpected connections within the ecosystem and between the natural and human components of the system. The strongest economic impacts were to Maine’s valuable lobster fishery. In 2012, early and intense landings led to a backlog in the supply chain and a drop in price. This experience prompted the lobster industry to implement changes throughout the supply chain to avoid the severe drop in price should another warm year with early landings occur. Here we describe a second heatwave in the Gulf of Maine that occurred in 2016. Despite a similar pattern in monthly landings, dockside prices for lobster were higher than expected. The contrast with 2012 suggests that the adaptations in the supply chain were successful. The 2012 and 2016 heatwaves are part of a broader pattern of temperature changes in this region. Warmer autumns allow sea turtles to remain in the Gulf of Maine longer, increasing their risk of being stunned or killed by cold water, and warm years followed by cold years typically lead to a decline in lobster landings. While there is evidence for adaptation to rising temperatures in the Gulf of Maine, the adaptation brought a significant shock to the system. Forecasts may help foster adaptation while avoiding shocks, but this will require a substantial shift in the mindsets of both forecast producers and consumers.


Pershing, A.J., K.E. Mills, A.M. Dayton, B.S. Franklin, and B.T. Kennedy. 2018. Evidence for adaptation from the 2016 marine heatwave in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. Oceanography 31(2):152–161, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2018.213.


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