Oregon Coast Scientist Gives Talk on Alarming Ocean Temperatures and the 'Blob'
(Manzanita, Oregon) – Monthly meetings in the north Oregon coast town of Manzanita always spotlight a fascinating presentation, and this month's Speaker Series of the Lower Nehalem Watershed Council brings a NOAA scientist on April 9. Dr. Bill Peterson, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Senior Scientist, explores some engaging new territory in ocean science. He even examines something in the ocean that researchers have termed “the blob.”
Dr. Peterson will look at how ocean condition data is used to predict salmon returns to the Columbia River. Dr. He will discuss his research on the correlation between physical and chemical ocean conditions, plankton biomass and species composition, and adult Chinook and coho counts at Bonneville Dam.
Recent ocean temperatures in the North Pacific have been anomalously warm with extreme salinity and zooplankton characteristics. What will this mean for salmon runs in 2015? If conditions continue, could we be facing a major environmental disaster in the upcoming years?
Dr. Peterson said there is an extensive and on-going - about 20 years worth - series of temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen, along with biomass and species composition of the plankton and krill at seven stations across the continental shelf and slope off Newport, Oregon. These data have been collected twice-monthly since 1996.
The physical and biological data along with data on the state of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and El Nino-Southern Oscillation characterize "ocean conditions" off Washington and Oregon. These measurements are then correlated with counts of adult Chinook and coho salmon passing upriver through Bonneville Dam. This information can be used to predict future returns of spring Chinook salmon in the next two years.
For the past 18 months, the North Pacific Ocean has been anomalously warming (up to +4.5°C above average). Values during summer 2014 were 1.5°C warmer than ever observed.
In late September 2014, this warm water mass, referred to as “the blob,” moved onshore, flooding the continental shelf with waters that were + 2°C about normal. Scientists were alarmed to discover that shelf waters off Newport, Oregon had higher temperatures and salinity and zooplankton characteristics than ever before. This “Blob” does not follow warmer water events like El Nino, according to Dr. Peterson's findings.
“In essence we are now experiencing a major 'El Niño-like' event,” he said. “NOAA’s climate models predict that the warm water will remain in place through at least summer/autumn 2015, thus we should expect the coastal ecosystem to respond as if a major El Niño were upon us. Bottom Line: we would be looking at a major environmental disaster this year and next.”
Dr. Peterson talks at 7 pm at the Pine Grove Community House, 225 Landed Ave, Manzanita, Oregon. Doors open at 6:30 pm. (503) 368-7424.
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