the film
Ecology and salmon related articles

Notorious Warm Water 'Blob' in Pacific Weakening,
But Will That Save Fish and Ecosystems?

by Zach Urness
Statesman Journal, October 22, 2019

"But there's still a lot of really warm water out there, far larger than almost anything we've seen in the last 40 years.”
-- Andrew Leising, NOAA Fisheries Southwest Science Center

A 'Blob' of warm water may be returning to the West Coast, impacting fish and wildlife, officials said Thursday. This picture shows sea surface temperature similarities between September of 2014 and 2019. (Photo: Picture courtesy of NOAA Fisheries) When scientists announced the return of a notorious expanse of warm water in the Pacific Ocean in September, it alarmed both the Northwest scientific and fishing communities.

"The Blob," as the phenomenon was called in 2014 and '15, had returned to almost the same size by August of 2019, bringing a serious threat to fish and wildlife off the West Coast.

Since that time, however, the latest version of the Blob has weakened somewhat, with sea temperatures cooling as much as 5 degrees off the coast, according to a blog post by Cliff Mass, a professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington.

That's a positive sign, and could signal a reduction in size and impact from the current Blob. But let's not put on party hats just yet, said Andrew Leising, a research scientist at the NOAA Fisheries Southwest Science Center.

"You could say it's weakening, and we do have some much cooler temperatures off the California and Southern Oregon coast," said Leising, who uses a system for tracking and measuring heatwaves in the Pacific Ocean using satellite data. "But there's still a lot of really warm water out there, far larger than almost anything we've seen in the last 40 years."

The reason for some of the Blob's weakening, both scientists said, is an uptick in Pacific winds and storms as we enter the winter season.

But unlike 2015, when winter storms were muted by high pressure systems, the last month or so has brought plenty of activity.

"The pattern has really changed recently, with below normal sea level pressure (low pressure systems with strong winds) now over the Gulf of Alaska. Bad for the Blob," Mass wrote.

"We are now going into the stormy season for the North Pacific and it is unlikely that conditions will be good for the Blob," Mass wrote.

Leising remains less convinced.

"Even with it backing off a little, it still remains one of the largest marine heatwaves in the last 40 years," he said. "With the original Blob, we saw it weaken and then come back strong. That could happen again. Right now my concern level is about a 5 (on a scale of 1 to 10). But what really matters is where temperatures are in the spring when fish are reproducing. That's when we'll know how serious this event is or isn't."

What's so bad about the 'Blob?'

Excessively warm water impacts fish and wildlife in a number of ways, officials said.

It disrupts the ocean's food web, leading to less quality food for young salmon and steelhead. Historically poor fish returns followed the last Blob.

It also brought the largest algal bloom recorded on the West Coast, which shut down crabbing and clamming for months.

"Short story, the marine heat wave is not likely a good thing,” said Bruce McIntosh, deputy fish chief of inland fisheries for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "If it doesn't get broken up, every marine-based fish species would be impacted in a negative way."

Related Pages:
Scientists Assert Only Breaching Can Cool Northwest Waterways by Eric Barker, Post Register, 10/23/19

Zach Urness has been an outdoors reporter, photographer and videographer in Oregon for 11 years.
Notorious Warm Water 'Blob' in Pacific Weakening, But Will That Save Fish and Ecosystems?
Statesman Journal, October 22, 2019

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation