NOAA Reveals A ‘Blob’ In The North Pacific

NOAA’s rendition of the new heatwave – aka a “blob” – that’s located up down the Pacific Ocean coast from Alaska to the Pacific Northwest. (NOAA)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that a new “blob”, caused by an oceanic heatwave, is covering waters in the Pacific Ocean and potentially affecting North Pacific salmon. A similar blob was detected in 2014, and this one appears to be even bigger.

Here’s some of NOAA’S release after a conference call was held on Thursday:

About five years ago “the Blob” of warm ocean water disrupted the West Coast marine ecosystem and depressed salmon returns. Now, a new expanse of unusually warm water has quickly grown in much the same way, in the same area, to almost the same size.

The warm expanse building off the West Coast stretches roughly from Alaska south to California. It ranks as the second largest marine heatwave in terms of area in the northern Pacific Ocean in the last 40 years, after “the Blob.”

“It’s on a trajectory to be as strong as the prior event,” said Andrew Leising, a research scientist at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California. He developed a system for tracking and measuring heatwaves in the Pacific Ocean using satellite data. “Already, on its own, it is one of the most significant events that we’ve seen.”

Cold water welling up from ocean depths along the coast has so far held the warm expanse offshore, he said. However, the upwelling, driven by coastal winds, usually wanes in the fall. The heatwave could then move onshore and affect coastal temperatures, he said. This already appears to have happened along the coast of Washington. …

Like “the Blob,” the new heatwave emerged over the past few months. A ridge of high pressure dampened the winds that otherwise mix and cool the ocean’s surface. The heatwave remains relatively new and is primarily affecting the upper layers of the ocean, it could break up rapidly.

“It looks bad, but it could also go away pretty quickly if the unusually persistent weather patterns that caused it change,” said Nate Mantua, a research scientist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center.

Current forecasts show the heat wave moderating but continuing for months.

A key question is whether the new heatwave will last long enough to affect the marine ecosystem. Biologists say that its large size means it probably already has. For example, warmer conditions during “the Blob” left lesser-quality food available to young salmon entering the ocean. It also shifted predator distributions in ways that contributed to low returns of salmon. …

..NOAA Fisheries’ two West Coast laboratories collaborate on the California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment. This is a joint effort to track and interpret environmental change off the West Coast. That provides a framework to monitor shifting conditions, Harvey said.

One challenge will be applying lessons learned from the last heat wave to anticipate and mitigate potential impacts of the new one. For example, the warm water of “the Blob” led humpback and other whales to feed closer to shore. Record numbers became entangled in lines from crab traps and other fishing gear.

In response, fishermen, managers, and others have formed working groups in California, Oregon, and Washington. They hope to find ways of reducing the risk of entanglements.

PacificOceanAnomaly.jpg

The marine heatwave that has formed off the West Coast of North America is currently close to the warmest area in the Pacific Ocean. Map shows sea surface temperature anomalies, with darker orange representing temperatures farther above average. Image from NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service.

The marine heatwave that has formed off the West Coast of North America is currently close to the warmest area in the Pacific Ocean. Map shows sea surface temperature anomalies, with darker orange representing temperatures farther above average. Image from NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service.

Real-time research on environmental changes will give managers the details they need to respond, said Kristen Koch, Director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. “This is a time when we all need to know how our marine ecosystem is changing, and what that means for those of us who live along the West Coast.” 

The new northeast Pacific heatwave reflects current weather patterns. This includes a band of high pressure stretching north to the Bering Sea and Alaska, which have been unusually warm in recent years, said Nick Bond, a research meteorologist with the Joint Institute for the study of the Atmosphere and Ocean in Seattle, a collaboration between NOAA and the University of Washington.

“There are definitely concerning implications for the ecosystem,” said Bond, who is credited with naming “the Blob.” “It’s all a matter of how long it lasts and how deep it goes.

Our fearless leader and executive editor Andy Walgamott has more on the story on the Northwest Sportsman blog. 

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