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Images: Jet Stream Gets Fish in Hot Water

In early 2012, sea surface temperatures off the U.S. east coast were several degrees higher than usual (red) for that time of year. Data from instrumented buoys showed that the higher temperatures occurred over a vast area at the same time, and data from a ship traveling along the “Oleander Line” between New York and Bermuda showed that the unusual warmth extended well below the surface.

(Illustration by Eric Taylor and Ke Chen, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

When postdoctoral scholar Ke Chen found that unusually high sea surface temperatures in 2012 occurred over a vast region at the same time, he turned his attention to the only part of the Earth system able to influence that large an area all at once: the atmosphere. (Photo courtesy of Ke Chen, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

In most winters, an upper-atmosphere air current called the jet stream dips far south, bringing cold Arctic air over much of North America and Atlantic coastal waters. Chen found that it followed a very different course during the winter of 2011-2012 (next image).

(Illustration by Eric Taylor, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

During the winter of 2011-2012, the jet stream stayed farther north and was flatter than usual, not looping far to the south. As a result, warmer (and more humid) air remained over much of North America, preventing coastal waters from losing as much heat as they normally do in winter. That led to unusually high ocean temperatures during the spring and early summer of 2012.

(Illustration by Eric Taylor, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

WHOI physical oceanographer Glen Gawarkiewicz works with local fishermen and fishing industry groups to gather and disseminate information about changing ocean conditions, such as temperature, currents, and salinity, that can affect the behavior and distribution of commercially important fish species. (Photo by Jayne Doucette, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)