Climate Change and Thermal Sensitivity of Canadian Atlantic Commercial Marine Species

Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Program

Natural Resources Canada

Project A515




Our project identifies the vulnerability and sensitivity of commercially important marine species to climate change. To do this we identified the thermal limits for survival of these species throughout their lives and compared these to climate change predictions of oceanic temperature.



  There is consensus in the scientific community that anthropogenic increases in greenhouse gases emissions are predicted to contribute to a rise in global surface air and ocean temperatures (e.g., Cubasch et al . 2001, Oreskes 2004). Global climate models suggest that sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic will increase by 2-4ºC by 2090 (Hengeveld 2000). The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (2001) has projected that climate changes have the potential to affect coastal and marine ecosystems with impacts on the spatial distribution of species important to commercial fisheries. The waters of Atlantic Canada include the northern or southern limit of many species and observations of temporary northward shifts of a number of southern species, found outside Canadian waters, have been reported during short-term periods of climate warming in the last century (Taylor et al ., 1957; Frank et al . 1990). Thus, it is plausible that global warming will have both negative and positive impacts, and possibly change the nature of the Canadian fishery. Our principal objective was to examine fishery impacts by analyzing concomitant changes in sea surface temperatures and distribution of 33 commercially important marine species in the coastal waters of Atlantic Canada and New England with a 4ºC in global air temperatures expected in the next 90-100 years using species temperature preferences, remotely sensed sea surface temperatures, and the output of Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Models . The second objective was to synthesize the information for all species to determine the most vulnerable characteristic or life stage of each species in terms of thermal parameters. This would enable a ranking of species with respect to their vulnerability to temperature change. We hope that our results will aid capture fisheries and the aquaculture industry in adapting to changing conditions.

Shifts in temperature will not follow a linear, latitudinal gradient and of utmost importance to marine species are changes in circulation and stratification of coastal waters. At this stage, output of global climate models cannot be used to predict such changes. We believe our work will help to demonstrate the detail of information necessary for modelers to focus on regional models and improve resolution.

Much of the text on these web pages is derived from our final report to Canada's Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Program. Material from those chapters is found in pages linked to "Results" above. Below is a brief description of what you will find in each page.

•  Executive summary

•  Sea surface temperatures
Chapter 2 - Sea surface temperature changes in the northwest North Atlantic under a 4°C global temperature rise (an analysis of present sea surface temperatures from satellite imagery and projected sea surface temperatures using the output of Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Models)

•  Species accounts
Chapter 3 - Species accounts (individual species accounts presenting general biology, commercial importance, thermal criteria, most vulnerable characteristic or life stage in terms of thermal parameters , and maps of present and predicted distributions)

•  Sensitivity analysis
Chapter 4 - Sensitivity analysis (an analysis and ranking of species with respect to their vulnerability to temperature change)

•  Other Products
White papers produced for the World Wildlife Fund's "2 Degrees is Too Much!" program, their program brochure highlighting changes in Canada's natural resources, and a poster describing our methodology but examining a species important in New England waters.


Cubasch U., G.A. Meehl, G.J. Boer, M. Stouffer, M. Dix, A. Noda, C.A. Senior, S. Raper, and K.S. Yap. 2001. Projections of future climate change. In: Houghton J.T., Y. Ding, D.J. Griggs, M. Noguer, P.J. VAN DER Linden , X. Dai, K. Maskell, and C.A. Johnson (eds.). Climate change 2001: the scientific basis, contribution of working group 1 to the third assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, p. 525-582.

Frank, K.T., R.I. Perry, and K.F. Drinkwater. 1990. Predicted response of Northwest Atlantic invertebrate and fish stocks to CO 2 -induced climate change . Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 119: 353-365.

Hengeveld, H.G. 2000. Projections for Canada 's climate future. Climate Change Dig est 00-01, Environment Canada , Meteorologic Service of Canada , Atmospheric Climate Science Directorate.

Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. 2001 . Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Cambridge University Press.

Oreskes, N. 2004. The scientific consensus on climate change. Science 306: 1686.

Taylor , C.C., H.B. Bigelow, and H.W. Graham. 1957. Climatic trends and the distribution of marine animals in New England . U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fishery Bulletin 58: 293-345.


Last Updated on June 27, 2007