A huge new marine heatwave has formed in the waters off the US West Coast, similar to “The Blob” that devastated sea life and ravaged runs of salmon in the Pacific ocean. The Blob also preceded the ‘Ridiculously Resilient Ridge’ that caused the worst drought on the west coast in recent memory. A 2016 El Niño brought the RRR to an end.
The gigantic patch of unusually warm water has appeared in nearly the exact same spot in 2014, and like its predecessor, the new expanse of warm water sprawls from Alaska to California.
The NOAA is calling it the ‘Northeast Pacific Marine Heatwave of 2019’. ‘The Blob’ began forming in mid-June, according to Andy Leising, a research scientist at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, CA.
“It’s the second-largest marine heatwave that we have seen since 1981,” said Leising
The warming is caused by a ridge of high pressure over the area that keeps winds calm and allows the sun to warm the water’s surface. The result is a temperature increase of 5 to 6ºF in the warmest areas.
NOAA scientists aren’t directly tying the warming phenomenon to climate change — but they say there is an underlying warming that has boosted ocean temperatures every year. If conditions shift, the warmed water could quickly dissipate.
But if the conditions continue they could trigger a series of problems for the marine web food chain. The Blob upended the West Coast marine ecosystem, resulting in the deaths of millions of animals, from seabirds to sea lions. Salmon runs cratered, adding to the stress on animals that eat them, including endangered southern resident killer whales, reports USA Today.
One positive sign is that so far the heatwave is not as strong in Southern California as it was in 2014, but only time will tell whether ‘The Blob’ will return.