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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 peaked at close to 7 degrees Fahrenheit above average. This year’s heat wave already is almost as large and almost as warm, with temperatures as much as 6 degrees Fahrenheit above normal over a very large area. The size and intensity of the heat wave are ominous signs of its potential danger to marine life.

The bloom is quite large and poisonous, stretching from the outer coast to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan Islands and into Puget Sound.

The last disturbance spewed heat to a depth of 5o0 meters in the sea and that heat still has not entirely dissipated, said Toby Garfield, director of the Environmental Research Division of the Southern Fisheries Science Center. So far, the heat from this event is only in about the top 50 meters of the ocean.

Some animals never have experienced a normal ocean in their lives: Salmon coming back in such poor numbers now went to sea during the last heat wave, and are coming back as this one started setting up.