Climate affects the timing and magnitude of phytoplankton blooms that fuel marine food webs and influence global biogeochemical cycles. Changes in bloom timing have been detected in some cases, but the underlying mechanisms remain elusive, contributing to uncertainty in long-term predictions of climate change impacts. Here we describe a 13-year hourly time series from the New England shelf of data on the coastal phytoplankterSynechococcus, during which the timing of its spring bloom varied by 4 weeks. We show that multiyear trends are due to temperature-induced changes in cell division rate, with earlier blooms driven by warmer spring water temperatures. Synechococcus loss rates shift in tandem with division rates, suggesting a balance between growth and loss that has persisted despite phenological shifts and environmental change.