My youngest daughter is a lizard.
That’s what her sister calls her because, like her father, she loves the heat. She thrives in it. She basks in. She goes jogging in it for Pete’s sake. Like her sister, however, I am not a lizard.
If you put me in heat over 85F I tend to wilt. Like my oldest daughter, I am inclined to stay inside with the AC on and the fans going full tilt rather than subject myself to temperatures that make me want to find the deepest, coolest cave and crawl into it.
That is, I would stay inside with the AC on if I had AC. But no, I live in Maine (you know, that weird shaped state on the top, right hand side of the US map). Houses here have not, until recently, been built with central AC. We’ve never needed it.
With the exception of 2-3 weeks in July/August, the summer temperatures rarely go above the mid 80’s, and for those couple of weeks, using strategically placed fans usually does the trick, especially since it normally cools off at night. At least that is how it has always been, up until the last few years. One thing I have definitely noticed is that recently, the summers here in Costal Maine are getting hotter. There is a reason for that.
The Gulf of Maine has always been considered subarctic. Come to visit Maine in the summer and you’d have a fantastic day at the beach, but wouldn’t get in the water more than a few minutes because even in the summer, the water never made it to more than 50F. That is part of Maine’s charm.
That cool ocean surface temperature is what makes summer so refreshing here on the coast of Vacation Land. Except that since the 1980’s, the temperatures in the Gulf have been rising exponentially. One degree per decade. This is way more than the overall global Ocean temperature increase of 1.5 degrees in the same time frame.
Today the Gulf of Maine’s average yearly temperature is 54.14. That means that the Gulf of Maine is warming 99% faster than the rest of the ocean. I know that 4 degrees does not seem like a lot, but when it comes to ocean temperatures, it can be critical.
So, what is causing this dramatic increase in temperature? Well, no matter what your stance on climate change is, the climate is changing.
Off the coast of Greenland, there is a place where a large mass of cold water from the Arctic sinks and then circulates south down the east coast of Canada and the US. Eventually, this mass of cold-water pools in the Gulf of Maine. This is the Labrador current.
Coming up the coast from the equator, is a different current, the northward moving Gulf Stream.
Up until recently, the Labrador Current could easily keep the waters of the Gulf of Maine cool and the related cold-water ecosystems cool as well. But as the ice in the Arctic and Greenland melts, it dumps fresh water into the ocean.
Fresh water doesn’t sink like salt water does, which means that the Labrador Current becomes weaker, allowing the warm water of the Gulf Stream to make its way into the gulf. This means no cold air from the ocean keeping us cool, which means hotter summers, milder winters and an upheaval of all of the ecosystems that have become dependent on this particular climate niche.
One distinct result is that not only are the summers getting warmer and longer, but more humid as well.
The winters are not only decreasing in length, they are also lessening in severity. But while it is awesome to not have to spend as much time shoveling, warmer winters have their downside.
For one thing, the solid freeze of winter is needed in order to produce a good maple syrup run. It is also needed to freeze the lakes and ponds for ice fishing. Even more importantly, solidly freezing winters keep the tick population in check. Now, however, the tick population is out of control.
Winter ticks, also called moose ticks, have led to an 86% mortality rate in the moose population of the northern U.S. and southern Canada. We are getting more invasive bug species.
Between the new bugs and the change in climate, birch trees are having a hard time adapting and have been dying off quickly. Fewer lobsters are being caught (one of the backbones of the Maine Economy), cold water fish like haddock are becoming harder to find, and to everyone’s dismay, more great white sharks are patrolling the coastline. They have names, and websites where you can track them in real time. Freaky, but kind of fascinating at the same time.
Mind you, our local troubles seem pale in comparison to the severe drought, fires and flooding that so many other areas are having to deal with. And when it comes right down to it, I’ll take longer, wetter summers and shorter, dryer winters to avoid having to deal with the catastrophic changes that are underway around the globe.
Besides, my garden loves the humidity, and with a longer growing season, I might even be able to successfully grow roses again.
Of course, I am still not a lizard. Perhaps one day, I will find myself acclimated to the heat and humidity. Until then, I believe it is time to go shopping for an air conditioner.