• Damon Swisher

Heat Waves May Be a Normal Occurrence in the Pacific Ocean

Updated: May 5

Have you heard of "The Blob"? Aside from being a hit horror movie from the 1950's and 60's, there is also an aptly-named environmental/climate phenomenon that came to be known as "The Blob" in 2013 - and at the time, it was just as scary.


The Blob was a heat-wave that hit a 1000 mile stretch in the Pacific Ocean, causing a number of interesting yet frightening side effects such as harmful algae bloom and habitat abandonment. Though the scientists at the time perceived the heatwave as a marine heating event lasting only until the end of the year - the data in fact shows that The Blob heating may have extended all the way into 2016! And from 2013 onwards, a series of record-breaking heatwaves have been striking the Pacific Ocean in the same (or similar) locations since.



What Effects Originated From These Marine Heatwaves?


Massive algae blooms, as discussed before, are no-bueno. While it might seem like a nice thing, the algae that tends to grow has toxic properties, which kills fish, clams, snails, and crabs that eat it. In return, fisheries that propagate crabs, clams, and fish must be shut down to avoid losing profits.


Whales had to shift their feeding grounds - which isn't intrinsically bad, but it causes them to encroach on areas typically travelled or fished by humans, resulting in an increase of whales either hit, killed, or damaged by boats or tangled/caught in fishing nets. Many whale species are in danger as it is, so these heatwaves pose a special threat.

Fish that tend to live in the warmer, southern portion of the affected heatwave aren't displaced - but instead, the effective area of their habitat increases, causing them to proliferate further North than before. This doesn't sound "bad" (and it might not be) but as all things ecological, we have to be cautious if we aren't sure if the outcome. The spread of typically Southern-dwelling fish may have some unseen consequences.


To top it off, the creatures known as pyrosomes appeared to increase in number in response to the heatwaves.


Andrew Leising, a scientist who tracks satellite warming data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) even described the potential deaths of some fish, as "heat waves are basically exacerbating the effects of background warming. And that actually can be important for some animals because certain fish and other animals have these absolute limits. ... suddenly it gets to 25 degrees Celsius and bam, it’s dead. They do fine up until a certain point and then they just can’t have it any warmer.”


How Long Have These Heatwaves Been Persisting?


Heat wave warming observed in this area is fairly recent, though only because the heat waves in recent years were marked by such record numbers. In general though, heat waves persisted in the area measurably rom 1982 - which is the limit date for satellite data. Most researchers and scientists aren't ready to state whether this is abnormal or not however, as more research and observation is required.


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