Featured Image Credit: NOAA
By Emily Persico
For the past three years, a warm patch of water has been looming around the Pacific coast, throwing off the equilibrium of an entire ecosystem, devastating commercial fisheries and pushing air quality measures beyond federal limits. Now, scientists scattered across the Pacific have teamed up to better understand this mysterious anomaly.
Leading the team of scientists is physical geographer Chelle Gentemann. She and her team gathered data from ocean buoys and satellites to get a better idea of what’s been going on. After the typical approach of analyzing pressure failed to bring results, the team was forced to dig deeper into infrared and microwave radiation for answers.
“From the entire record, this event is unprecedented in magnitude and duration,” explains Gentemann. “There’s just nothing like it in our historical record.
The results proved just that. It turns out that “the Blob,” which at its peak covered an area larger than the contiguous United States, is a result of unusually weak coastal winds. These winds were so weak that, during long periods between 2013 and 2016, warm surface ocean water was unable to mix with the cold, nutrient-rich water of the deep sea.
For the many creatures that rely on the cold, nutritious water to which they are adapted, the Blob has meant devastation. Sea star melted and disappeared, sea lions starved and a record-breaking algal bloom overtook the Pacific Coast of the United States. Unfortunately, the devastation doesn’t end there.
“When all is said and done, I think people will see that as the most economically and ecologically consequential event in our historical record,” remarks Nate Mantua, an employee at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Center in Santa Cruz.
Luckily, the Blob is not here to stay. It arose from natural circumstances, and into nature it will fade. Nonetheless, many scientists fear that the Blob is merely a “dress rehearsal” for what is to come with climate change.
Only time will tell. In the meantime, scientists have a lot more to learn about this phenomenon and its effect on sea life.