Huge ‘hot blob’ in Pacific Ocean killed nearly a million seabirds

Huge ‘hot blob’ in Pacific Ocean killed nearly a million seabirds

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: January 16, 2020 SNIP: A million seabirds died in less than a year as a result of a giant “blob” of hot ocean water off the coast of New Zealand, according to new research. A study released by the University of Washington found the birds, called the common murre, probably died of starvation between the summer of 2015 and the spring of 2016. Most dead seabirds never wash ashore, so while 62,000 dead or dying murres were found along the coasts of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California, researchers estimate the total number is closer to 1 million. Alaska saw the most birds wash up. In Prince William Sound in southern Alaska, more than 4,500 bird carcasses were found every kilometer, or 0.62 miles. The blob stems from a years-long severe marine heatwave, believed to be caused by an anticyclone weather system that first appeared in 2013. A weather phenomenon known as El Niño accelerated the warming temperatures beginning in 2015 and, by 2016, the rising heat resulted in water temperatures nearly 11F (6C) above average. Anticyclones form when a mass of air cools, contracts and becomes more dense, increasing the weight of the atmosphere and the surface air pressure. Heat maps at the time showed a massive red blob growing, spanning more than 380,000 sq miles (1 million sq km). That’s nearly 1.5 times the size of Texas or four times larger than New Zealand. The study found that the murres mostly likely starved to death. The seabird must eat half its body weight to survive, but food grew scarce amid intense competition from other...
Ocean temperatures hit record high as rate of heating accelerates

Ocean temperatures hit record high as rate of heating accelerates

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: January 13, 2020 SNIP: The heat in the world’s oceans reached a new record level in 2019, showing “irrefutable and accelerating” heating of the planet. The world’s oceans are the clearest measure of the climate emergency because they absorb more than 90% of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuel burning, forest destruction and other human activities. The new analysis shows the past five years are the top five warmest years recorded in the ocean and the past 10 years are also the top 10 years on record. The amount of heat being added to the oceans is equivalent to every person on the planet running 100 microwave ovens all day and all night. Hotter oceans lead to more severe storms and disrupt the water cycle, meaning more floods, droughts and wildfires, as well as an inexorable rise in sea level. Higher temperatures are also harming life in the seas, with the number of marine heatwaves increasing sharply. The most common measure of global heating is the average surface air temperature, as this is where people live. But natural climate phenomena such as El Niño events mean this can be quite variable from year to year. “The oceans are really what tells you how fast the Earth is warming,” said Prof John Abraham at the University of St Thomas, in Minnesota, US, and one of the team behind the new analysis. “Using the oceans, we see a continued, uninterrupted and accelerating warming rate of planet Earth. This is dire news.” “We found that 2019 was not only the warmest year on...
A Marine Heat Wave Intensifies, with Risks for Wildlife, Hurricanes and California Wildfires

A Marine Heat Wave Intensifies, with Risks for Wildlife, Hurricanes and California Wildfires

SOURCE: Inside Climate News DATE: September 18, 2019 SNIP: An intensifying marine heat wave in the northeastern Pacific Ocean has triggered government warnings about harm to salmon and other fisheries along the U.S. West Coast, and it’s raising concerns about hurricane risks to the Hawaiian islands and wildfire risks in California. The current marine heat wave covers a horseshoe-shaped area about the size of Alaska. It extends from the Gulf of Alaska down the coast of Western North America and westward to Hawaii. In the warmest areas, sea surface temperatures have reached about 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit above average. Marine heat waves occur when sea surface temperatures in part of the ocean rise and stay above the expected seasonal temperatures for at least five days in a row. Scientists say these heat waves are forming more frequently, and they suspect that shifts in winds and ocean currents driven by global warming are a big part of the cause. A 2018 study showed that, since 1925, marine heat waves have become 34 percent more frequent and they are lasting longer. The majority of marine heat waves, about 87 percent, can be attributed to human-caused global warming, the authors found. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is tracking the current marine heat wave and has warned of disruptions to ocean ecosystems and fisheries along the West Coast. Andy Leising, a research scientist at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, said this year’s warm blob could be as strong as the last and is already one of the most significant marine heat waves on record in the region because...
New marine heat wave resembles killer ‘Blob’ that devastated sea life on West Coast, NOAA says

New marine heat wave resembles killer ‘Blob’ that devastated sea life on West Coast, NOAA says

SOURCE: Seattle Times DATE: September 5, 2019 SNIP: A new marine heat wave has formed off the West Coast that is similar to “The Blob” that devastated sea life and ravaged runs of Pacific salmon. Although the similarities are striking, whether the new system will cause the same havoc is yet to be seen. Like The Blob, which formed in 2014 and peaked in 2015, the new mass of warm water emerged over the course of a few months. A persistent weather pattern has becalmed winds that typically stir up the ocean’s surface to keep it cool. The heat wave is relatively new and right now mostly has affected the upper layers of the ocean. If weather patterns shift, it could break up rapidly, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “It looks bad, but it could also go away pretty quickly,” said Nate Mantua, a research scientist at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, in a news release Thursday. 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. The new expanse of unusually warm water is eerily similar: It has quickly grown in much the same way, in the same area, to almost the same size, stretching from roughly Alaska to California. It is the second-largest marine heat wave in terms of area in the northern Pacific Ocean in the last 40 years, after the earlier Blob. About five years ago, sea temperatures...
Climate change: Marine heatwaves kill coral instantly

Climate change: Marine heatwaves kill coral instantly

SOURCE: BBC DATE: August 9, 2019 SNIP: Increasingly frequent marine heatwaves can lead to the almost instant death of corals, scientists working on the Great Barrier Reef have found. These episodes of unusually high water temperatures are – like heatwaves on land – associated with climate change. Scientists studying coral after a heat event discovered that extreme temperature rises decayed reefs much more rapidly than previously thought. The study revealed that corals became up to 15% weaker after an extreme heat event, causing some fragments to actually break off from the reef. Dr Tracy Ainsworth, from the University of New South Wales in Australia, worked on the study. She told BBC News that her whole research team, made up of scientists who have worked on corals for more than a decade, was shocked to find them to be “really brittle”. More typically, temperature rises cause something called coral bleaching – when the coral expels vital algae that lives in its tissues. In those events, the coral itself remains intact. “But what we’re seeing here is that – when the coral tissue dies – it falls and breaks away from the skeleton,” Dr Ainsworth explained. Commenting on the paper, Dr Laura Richardson, from the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University, UK, said that the really significant discovery was “the rapidity with which the reef skeleton breaks down when you have these severe heatwaves”. Dr Richardson added that the team had documented, for the first time, that severe heatwaves were causing “almost instant mortality of corals”. Dr Ainsworth said the researchers referred to the resulting, heat-damaged skeletons as “ghost corals,...