Environmental Prediction in the Gulf of Maine

Forecast of North Atlantic right whale births

Right whale with calf


With only some 350 individuals alive today, the North Atlantic right whale is critically endangered. Scientists recently discovered that a “chain reaction” of changes in the atmosphere and the ocean ultimately affects the birth rate of right whales. Using computer models developed by the scientists, GoMOOS now provides forecasts of North Atlantic right whale births based on data from GoMOOS Buoy N and other sources.

Map and buoy

Forecast of right whale births

Located in the Northeast Channel, GoMOOS Buoy N measures water temperatures at depths to 180 meters (590 feet). Scientists have determined that the birth rate of right whales can be predicted based on the temperature of water deep in the Northeast Channel. The temperature indicates which of two deep water masses is entering the Gulf of Maine from the continental slope. In turn, these water masses influence the whales' food supply, which fuels their reproduction.

2006: 13 births predicted
2007: 16 births predicted

Update: We are currently working on the forecast for 2012 as well as updating the previous years forecasts and the actual births reported. Stay tuned!

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Graph of forecast

What is the "chain reaction" from atmospheric changes to right whale births?

See what happens
when the NAO index is:

Strongly positive
Strongly negative
Click a button at left to see how changes in the atmosphere affect the number of right whales born approximately two years later.

Graphics, left to right:

  1. The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is a change in atmospheric pressure difference between high and low cells over Iceland and the Azores. The NAO index indicates whether the difference is greater (positive NAO index) or less (negative NAO index) than average. The red arrow indicates strength and direction of storms. When the NAO index is positive, storms tend to be stronger and track farther north. When the NAO index is negative, storms tend to be weaker and track more easterly.
  2. Changes in the NAO alter the deep water that enters the Gulf of Maine from the continental slope through the Northeast Channel. This incoming flow alternates between a warm water mass (red) and a cold water mass (blue). The two water masses differ in temperature and levels of nutrients, affecting the ecology of the Gulf of Maine. The Gulf Stream is indicated in yellow.
  3. The type of deep water entering the Gulf of Maine influences the food supply for right whales. The whales eat tiny, free-floating animals called Calanus plankton.
  4. Food supply fuels whale reproduction and strongly affects how many young whales, called calves, are born. After a positive NAO index, whale food becomes plentiful, and right whales produce many calves. After a negative NAO index, food becomes scarce, resulting in few calves being born.