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New 'Blob' Seems on Track to Affect Oregon Coast, Washington Coast

Published 09/05/2019 at 8:53 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

New Blob Seems on Track to Affect Oregon Coast, Washington Coast

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(Portland, Oregon) – Scientists from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Thursday the infamous "Blob" is likely returning to the West Coast, with a “heatwave” of warmer ocean water already found off the Washington, California and Oregon coasts. Five years ago such a “Blob” disrupted the marine ecosystems of the U.S. coastline in the west, and a new expanse of warm ocean has developed that resembles the early stages of the Blob earlier in the decade. (Above graphic courtesy NOAA. At left "the Blob's" beginnings in 2014 - at right its beginnings today).

Researchers, including Andrew Leising, a research scientist at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, say it’s the second largest warm mass to appear in the Pacific Ocean in the last 40 years after 2015’s mass that resulted in the Blob. This one is growing in much the same way, in the same area, and it’s close to the same size.

Leising has been tracking the watery heatwave by satellite and said: “Already, on its own, it is one of the most significant events that we’ve seen.”

So far, the mass is being held offshore by cold water upwelling, except off the Washington coast where it seems to be moving in closer. Once the mass hits the Oregon coast or California shoreline, it will start to affect temperatures there, and Leising believes it is already doing so in Washington. He said he believes it could easily become as strong as the previous blob.

The 2014 event affected fish and killed off more marine life than usual by apparently “cooking” them to some degree. It created more west winds that resulted in many more strange finds along the Oregon coast, such as extra doses of velella velella. There was even a run of mysterious purple waves that occurred because of an unusually large inundation of a kind of salp in Warrenton and Neskowin.

NOAA Coral Reef Watch created the images of the current and past warm water events. This new event shows some areas (in red) five degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal. The previous Blob peaked in 2014 and 2015 with temps almost seven degrees Fahrenheit higher than average.

While NOAA Fisheries scientists believe this Blob is on tract to become as powerful and pervasive as the last one, it still could dissipate quickly. It’s been spurred on by a ridge of high pressure that dampened winds which normally cool the ocean surface, but it is fairly new and is so far more affecting the upper layers of the ocean.

Nate Mantua, a research scientist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, said that while it looks bad right now it could go away if these slightly unusual weather patterns that helped cause it suddenly change. However, current weather models show the system continuing for months but possibly lessening slightly.

Has it already affected the Oregon coast, Washington coast and the California region? Scientists believe so. There have been marked changes in salmon populations and distribution in some areas.

Most of the summer, those along the Oregon coast were noting a much larger-than-usual influx of whales and their favorite foods because of this warm water mass pushing them closer to shore.

During the last Blob event, a larger population of whales closer to shore also meant more whales entangled in fishing nets. Scientists and fishermen alike worry about this possibility as well.

Currently, there are various entities from NOAA and elsewhere keeping an eye on west coast ocean temperatures through a network of satellites and other devices. Weather and ocean conditions are being monitored closely.




Purple waves in 2015, photo courtesy Seaside Aquarium. Below, velella velella from 2015, courtesy Seaside Aquarium

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