The Blob: How A Long, Strange Influx of Warm Water is Changing West Coast Ecosystems

by Carolyn Sotka

sandiego bluefin

Recreational fishing has had a gangbuster season in San Diego, thanks to the presence of tropical fish not normally found in those waters, like the bluefin tuna shown here. Photo by Point Loma Sportfishing.

Over the last few years, the waters off the West coast have been warming to about 4 to 5 degrees fahrenheit above average. This might seem like a small change, but it can cause major changes in the coastal ecosystems. The warm water, which scientists have nicknamed “the Blob,” formed two years ago near Alaska and has spread down the West Coast and is especially evident in Southern California. With the warmer waters, tiger sharks, hammerheads and even tropical sea snakes have moved northward.

the blob

The map of the West coast “Blob’ shows how much above (red) or below (blue) water temperatures were in 2015 compared to the long-term average from 2003 to 2012. Photo by Nasa. 

In a KPBS Evening News interview, Toby Garfield, director of the Environmental Research Division at Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, explains. “Having this additional warm water has changed the winds a little bit,”. “The upwelling winds really drive the productivity along the California coast. So if you reduce that productivity, you start changing a lot of different parts of the whole ecosystem.”

Much of the fishery population has shifted north, and El Niño hasn’t even fully arrived yet, said Garfield, who analyzes ocean conditions and reports his findings to the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Check out the KPBS Evening News story to learn more.

The impending El Niño could have affect the waters in two ways. The first is that increased storm energy from the climate condition, will bring up cold, deep water, mix with the warm waters and even everything out. The second possibility is that the ‘Blob’ and El Nino could have an amplified effect, which would translate to even warmer waters. Regardless of the outcome, several species such as the California sea lion have already experienced health anomalies, likely linked to the Blob and the decreased primary-phytoplankton productivity that has translated to less prey like anchovies and sardines, for the sea lions.

Check out the KPBS Evening News story to learn more.

For additional Scuttlefish reading see Invasion of the Red Crabs: El Niño Conditions Bring Hoards of Fiery Beasties to the Channel Islands -CS

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