Labrador’s oceanic shelf has witnessed unparalleled high temperatures this summer, reveals the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Warmer Oceans, Greater Consequences

Research scientist Frederic Cyr, based in St. John’s DFO, informed that the summer of 2023 has been rather astounding for global oceans.

“The entire North Atlantic reached record high temperatures,” Cyr remarked, emphasizing that despite the rise, it’s generally chillier than other oceans.

The water off the southern Labrador coast was four degrees above normal in July

According to Cyr, temperatures around central and southern Labrador’s shelf touched up to 15°C. In contrast, northern Labrador near the Torngat Mountains experienced a nearly typical summer. However, around Nain, the July average surged about three degrees above the norm, and August was consistently warmer by one to two degrees. Further south, near Makkovik, July and August were warmer by four and three degrees respectively.

“In certain bays, it might feel significantly warmer. But speaking in terms of the shelf’s vastness, it’s colder compared to other regions yet decidedly warmer than typical years,” added Cyr.

Such oceanic warming has multiple repercussions. Habitats shift, prompting certain species to venture further north for cooler waters. Warmer water retains less oxygen, necessitating species requiring more oxygen to migrate.

Additionally, Cyr explained the differentiation between oceanic layers:

“The ocean is akin to a layered cake. The warmer the surface, the more distinct these layers become, influencing oxygen distribution and nutrient movement, thereby affecting the food chain.”

Concerns Over Invasive Striped Bass in Southern Labrador

Down in southern Labrador, apprehensions are growing regarding the impact of an incoming fish species on the existing food chain. The NunatuKavut community council, in collaboration with DFO, is closely watching striped bass numbers.

Kristen Milbury, NunatuKavut community council aquatic biologist

Striped bass, sizable fish typically found as far north as the Gulf of St. Lawrence, have rarely been spotted off Labrador’s coast until 2017. But since then, their numbers have exploded into tens of thousands, notes Kristen Milbury, an aquatic biologist with the NunatuKavut community council.

“This might simply be a repercussion of climate change pushing many species further north,” Milbury stated.

A 2019 study by NunatuKavut showed bass predominantly consuming smaller forage fish, which forms the basis of the food chain and includes species like smelts, capelin, herring, and juvenile cod, trout, and salmon.

The community council is currently using trackers on striped bass to gauge their stay in Labrador waters during winter. Locals can report sightings to the NunatuKavut office or participate in an online survey on the community’s website.

As for the North Atlantic’s temperature dynamics, Cyr is eager to delve deeper. He mentioned the region’s uniqueness, emphasizing the possibility of entirely different conditions next year.

“Given our proximity to the Arctic gateway, our region undergoes numerous changes annually. A warm year now doesn’t guarantee warmth in the subsequent one,” Cyr concluded.

Striped bass are being seen more and more in southern Labrador