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The 1882 tilefish kill — a cold event in shelf waters off the north-eastern United States?

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Abstract:

A mass mortality of `warm-water' tilefish in the Middle Atlantic Bight between April and August of 1882 suggests an episode of extreme cold in the shelf waters off the north-eastern United States. This cooling is hypothesized to be a consequence of enhanced equatorwards transport of cold water in the Labrador Current, coincident with a minimum in the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index during the early 1880s.

Although there is little direct evidence for this historical event, an analogue for the 1880s cooling is found in the 1960s, at the most recent NAO-index minimum. Post-1945 observations in the Middle Atlantic Bight / Gulf of Maine region reveal changes in winter baroclinic circulation between cool and warm decades, with greater equatorward penetration of south-westwards flow along the shelf-edge during the cool 1960s. Over the period 1934–77, the NAO is found to account for 17% of the interannual variance in Labrador Current transport around the Grand Banks.

Proxy evidence for the cold episode of the early 1880s is sought. Records of bottom temperature in the Middle Atlantic Bight region are reconstructed using stable oxygen isotopic analysis on the annual bands of shells of a bivalve mollusc (Arctica islandica) and an empirical model of covariability with local air temperature. The result is confirmation of the presence of anomalously cold water during the early 1880s.

Keywords: Labrador Current; NAO; tilefish kill

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: James Rennell Division for Ocean Circulation, Southampton Oceanography Centre, Empress Dock, Southampton, SO14 3ZH, United Kingdom 2: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada B2Y 4A2 3: Department of Marine Geology and Geophysics, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA 4: The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, The Laboratory, Lowestoft, Suffolk NR33 OHT, United Kingdom

Publication date: March 1, 1999

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