A federal scientist based in Nova Scotia says ocean temperatures off the East Coast of Canada were about two to four degrees above normal in 2012, setting record highs.
"On average, it's probably three to five times the normal variability. So it's quite extreme," said Dave Hebert, a Canadian scientist at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Halifax.
His American counterparts at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. reported sea surface temperatures on the northeastern shelf in 2012 averaged 14 C, the highest temperature recorded in 150 years.
"It's basically the same here," said Hebert.
"Surface, right to the bottom. All across the Scotian Shelf. It's in the Bay of Fundy and in the Gulf into the St. Lawrence."
"The amazing thing is, it is such a large extent. It goes all the way down to North Carolina and all the way up to Labrador," Hebert said.
Given the unusually warm, dry and storm free summer in 2012, the high surface temperatures may not be a surprise.
"The big question is why is the bottom water so warm," said Hebert.
Potential explanations could include the Gulf Stream hugging the coast or a change in the circulation of the Labrador Current, which brings colder water south.
Hebert said it's too early to say whether the recent trend of warmer ocean temperatures is part of climate change.
DFO studying climate change
This week, he returned from a 24-day survey off Canada's East Coast on board the research vessel Hudson. Water temperatures in April had cooled and returned to normal, he says.
"It will be really interesting to see how it goes this summer...to see if it goes up and stays up," he said.
One of the consequences of warmer water is a rise in the sea level, threatening coastal communities.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is in the midst of a five year $148-million study on climate change, including its effects on fish and its impact on coastal communities.
Scientists want to know whether it's driving some fish northward.
"As the ocean warms, water expands and global sea level will rise," said says Blair Greenan, a research scientist at DFO.
"That is one of the factors that is playing into changing sea levels in this region."
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NEXT: <a href="ir=Canada%20British%20Columbia" target="_blank">Amazing Sea Creatures</a>
A red lionfish (Pterois volitans) swims in the aquarium of the Schonbrunn zoo in the gardens of the Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna on October 16, 2012. The red lionfish is a venomous coral reef fish. ALEXANDER KLEIN/AFP/Getty Images
A California sea lion and a walrus kiss each other during a show at the Hakkeijima Sea Paradise aquarium-amusement park complex in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)
A two-day-old female white whale swims with her mother at the Hakkeijima Sea Paradise aquarium-amusement park complex in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo, Saturday, June 30, 2012.(AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)
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A Cownose Ray swims in a tank during a preview of the newly renovated Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium at Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Neb., Wednesday, April 4, 2012.The aquarium opens to the general public on Thursday, April 5. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
King penguins stand in an enclosure at the Hakkeijima Sea Paradise aquarium-amusement park complex in Yokohama, near Tokyo, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012.(AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)
In this photo taken Thursday Aug. 2, 2012 and released by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a male weedy sea dragon at the Monterey Bay Aquarium swims with some of his newly hatched babies on in a sea dragon display thats part of the aquariums special exhibition, The Secret Lives of Seahorses. in Monterey, Calif. The inch-long fish, Australian relatives of the seahorse, were carried as eggs on a brood pouch under the father sea dragons tail. (AP Photo/Monterey Bay Aquarium, Randy Wilder)
Activists from environment campaign group Greenpeace wearing cardboard tuna cutouts hold a protest in front of South Korea's embassy in Manila on November 29, 2012. The activists sought conservation commitments from the fishing powers in the upcoming global summit on Pacific tuna fisheries to be hosted by the Philippines next week. NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images
This Sept. 5, 2012 photo shows Serena, a dugong at the Toba Aquarium in Toba, Japan. Dugongs, a sea mammal related to the manatee, are rare in captivity. The aquarium gift shop sells stuffed dugongs and dugong cookies. (AP Photo/Linda Lombardi)
This May 9, 2012 photo provided by the New England Aquarium in Boston shows a rare calico lobster that could be a 1-in-30 million, according to experts. The lobster, discovered by Jasper Whites Summer Shack and caught off Winter Harbor, Maine, is being held at the New England Aquarium for the Biomes Marine Biology Center in Rhode Island. The lobster is dark with bright orange and yellow spots. (AP Photo/New England Aquarium, Tony LaCasse)
Pterophyllum scalare fish are displayed at the 2012 Taiwan International Aquarium Expo in Taipei on November 9, 2012. More than one hundred fish tanks from many countries will be on display in the four day exhibition at Nangang Exhibition Hall from November 9 to 12. Mandy Cheng/AFP/Getty Images
In this Oct. 15, 2012 photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society, Mitik, an orphaned Pacific walrus calf rescued off the coast of Alaska, emerges from his tank at the New York Aquarium in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Mitik suffered from a number of ailments when he was rescued in July but is making progress as he receives round-the-clock care at the aquarium. (AP Photo/Wildlife Conservation Society, Julie Larsen Maher)
Phenacogrammus interruptus fish are displayed at the 2012 Taiwan International Aquarium Expo in Taipei on November 9, 2012. More than one hundred fish tanks from many countries will be on display in the four day exhibition at Nangang Exhibition Hall from November 9 to 12. Mandy Cheng/AFP/Getty Images
This photo taken July 4, 2012, at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska, shows a baby beluga calf being rehabilitated at the center. The whale was approximately two days old when it was found in Bristol Bay, Alaska, and separated from its mother. Staff from the Alaska SeaLife Center is receiving help with the whale's care from the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Shedd Aquarium in ChiCago and SeaWord in San Diego.. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
A Pacific white-sided dolphin calf swims along with its mother Piquet, Tuesday, June 12, 2012, at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. The baby male dolphin, which does not have a name, was born on Memorial Day. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)
A seahorse (Hippocampus Reidi) is displayed during a news conference before the 2012 Taiwan International Aquarium Expo in Taipei November 5, 2012. More then one hundred tanks of fish from many countries will be on display in the four day exhibition at Nangang Exhibition Hall from November 9 to 12. Mandy Cheng/AFP/Getty Images
A still unnamed King penguin chick that hatched on April 9 is unveiled at The Aquarium at Moody Gardens, Monday, April 23, 2012, in Galveston, Texas. A blood test will be conducted to determine the gender of the bird who came into life weighing about 20 ounces. This chick is the 14th King penguin chick to have been successfully bred at the aquarium. Due to space limitations, this chick will be go to another facility once weaned from its parents. The chick currently is in the main penguin exhibit at the aquarium which also home to Gentoo, Macaroni, Rockhopper and Chinstrap penguins. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Johnny Hanson)
A Rock Beauty angelfish looks out from its tank at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium in Cleveland Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. Developed by Marinescape NZ Limited, Ohio's only free-standing aquarium opens Thursday with two preview days for annual pass holders and opens to the public Saturday, Jan. 21. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
This image provided by the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium shows a female Argonaut, or paper nautilus, a species of cephalopod that was recently scooped out of the ocean off the California coast. The baseball-sized animal is making herself at home at the aquarium, bobbing up and down in her tank furling and unfurling her sucker-covered arms. This strange octopus is rare in California, because it only lives in tropical and subtropical waters. (AP Photo/Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, Gary Florin)