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Researchers say Norwegian ocean waters warming to record high temperatures

Winter ice cover in the Arctic Barents Sea in 2006 was the lowest ever recorded, and waters all along the Norwegian coast were hitting record high average temperatures, the national Institute of Marine Research said Wednesday.

It said average water temperatures in the Barents Sea over the years since 2000 have been the highest since records started in 1900.

"It has never been as warm in Norwegian ocean areas as it is now," said the institute's report "Ocean Resources and Environment 2007." "The warming is due both to warm weather and warm Atlantic currents, and the cause is a combination of natural and manmade changes."

The report said a natural warming trend in the Barents Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the North Sea over the past 30 years is expected to start a cooling period until about 2030.

"Manmade climate change will change that, and with the greatest likelihood contribute to the warmth records we now see," said the report, released in the western Norway city of Bergen. However, it said a natural cooling trend may dampen the impact of manmade global warming.

The researchers said the North Sea was 3.0-3.5 degrees Celsius (5.4-6.3 Fahrenheit) higher than average during the last quarter of 2006, the highest level since measurements started in 1936. In the Norwegian Sea, the warmest areas were about 1.25 degrees (2.25 F) above the long-term averages. It said Russian observations in the Barents Sea in May showed temperatures 1.3 degrees (2.34 F) higher than average.

It said coastal fish stocks, such as cod, herring and mackerel, were generally in good condition, although southern fish stocks, such as whiting, were moving north to warming waters.

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