Yup, you read that right. Scientists say a “blob” in the Pacific Ocean could be to blame for the drought in the West, as well as the East’s seemingly endless snowy season. Apparently, about 1,000 miles off the West Coast there is a long, skinny… well, blob of warm water that stretches from Mexico to Alaska.
The mass of water began in the fall of 2013 and scientists noted that it just didn’t cool off as much as it usually should. Then, by the spring of 2014, it was warmer still, according to Climate Scientist Nick Bond. The “blob” is between two and seven degrees Fahrenheit warmer than usual temperatures for the region, so winter air that goes across the Pacific Ocean and onto the shore wasn’t as cold as it normally would be. This became the warmer, dryer winter that much of the west coast has been experiencing.
Bond said that scientists noticed Washington State’s milder-than-normal winter in 2014, and since that time, the blob has gotten longer and larger. In a study published in the Geophysical Research Letters scientific journal, Bond and his co-authors said that there is a high-pressure ridge over the Pacific Ocean and this has led to calmer seas.
Scientists from NOAA Fisheries are particularly concerned as the warm expanse could greatly affect marine life from jellyfish to salmon. In record-keeping history, there has not been an episode of such continually warm temperatures in the Northern Pacific Ocean. Fish and animals that usually seek out cold water are heading to new areas, and sea lion pups and sea birds are washing ashore off California’s coast, indicating an issue with animals being able to find the food they need in these warmer waters.
If the warming continues for the summer and fall, some animals and fish that do well in a cold ocean would could suffer malnutrition, reduced growth, and diminished reproduction—the resulting population declines might be catastrophic. This is not an unprecedented problem—marine mammals, sea birds and Pacific salmon have had this occur before—but on the other hand, warm water-loving animals might experience increased growth. The imbalance could be unsettling, especially for areas that depend on cold water mammals and fish—like Alaskan residents.
Images via NOAA