File - In this Sept. 14, 2017, file photo, salmon circle just below the surface inside a lock where they joined boats heading from salt water Shilshole Bay into fresh water Salmon Bay at the Ballard Locks in Seattle. Federal scientists say they’re monitoring a new ocean heat wave off the West Coast. Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019, the expanse of unusually warm water stretches from Alaska to California, and it resembles a similar heatwave that disrupted marine life five years ago. It remains to be seen whether this heat wave will linger or dissipate more quickly than the last one. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Wedge-shaped marine heat wave blankets B.C.’s west coast, concerning scientists

So far, the warm expanse has been held offshore by cold water welling from the ocean depths

The blob is back — but this time, it looks a little more like a wedge.

Scientists are keeping a close eye on a thin blanket of warm water off the West Coast for about three months, saying it resembles a marine heat wave nicknamed “the blob” that disrupted marine life between 2014 and 2016.

“If it is the same, then it’s very concerning for marine mammals that depend on fish, for seabirds that depend on fish, but also for ocean productivity,” said Andrew Trites, the director of the marine mammal research unit at the University of British Columbia.

The heat wave — which resembles a wedge, stretching from the south of Vancouver Island to Baja, Calif., and offshore towards Hawaii — has raised temperatures about three to four degrees Celsius higher than the normal longterm average for those parts of the ocean, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“You put on a sweater, you take off a coat,” Trites said. ”But for a marine life it’s a big deal. In the ocean it’s a big deal.”

NOAA research scientist Nate Mantua noted that this year’s wedge is at this point less severe than the blob of 2014 to 2016, because it’s only been around for a few months.

Three to five years ago, the warm water penetrated to depths of 200 to 300 metres, while right now it’s mostly between 30 and 50 metres, he said.

“It’s a blanket over the ocean and that means it could go away pretty quickly if the winds start blowing in a normal way,” Mantua said. “That usually happens at this time of the year as we transition into fall.”

So far, the warm expanse has been held offshore by cold water welling from the ocean depths, he said.

“A lot of marine life that we interact with and we see is concentrated closer to shore in the most productive waters of the northeast Pacific,” he said. “Because it’s offshore its mostly affecting those less productive waters.”

But in addition to being able to dissipate the wedge, winds also have the power to make the heat wave worse.

“Winds have a direct impact on the way heat is exchanged,” he said.

And Mantua said California may already be seeing some of the effects from the warmer waters: NOAA’s surveys have recently noted higher concentration of anchovies — and the big predators that feed on them — close to shore waters.

There’s also been indications that some fish stocks have changed their distribution, he added.

ALSO READ: Threats, abuse move from online to real world, McKenna now requires security

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sonia Furstenau column: MCFD needs overhaul of requirements for social workers

BCASW advocating for mandatory registration for social workers with B.C. College of Social Workers.

Chris Wilkinson column: An ode to my caregiver

You help keep me safe. You help keep me strong.

Stevenson reflects on her seven years as Chemainus Elementary School principal

Strong community and parent support for the school always evident during her tenure

Drivesmart column: Advisory bike lanes: what should you do?

Imagine a narrow road that has no markings at all used by drivers

Crews work overnight to try to put out wildfire on Pender Island

Fire department and B.C. Wildfire Service crews extinguishing fire in ‘extremely difficult terrain’

Cooler days help crews fighting fire on mountainside north of Cowichan Lake

Firefighters making progress, but it’s ‘slow-going,’ says B.C. Wildfire Service

Crews work overnight to try to put out wildfire on Pender Island

Fire department and B.C. Wildfire Service crews extinguishing fire in ‘extremely difficult terrain’

Michael Buble among 13 British Columbians to receive Order of B.C.

Ceremony will be delayed to 2021 due to COVID-19

U.S. border communities feel loss of Canadian tourists, shoppers and friends

Restrictions on non-essential travel across the Canada-U.S. border have been in place since March 2`

Rollout of COVID-19 Alert app faces criticism over accessibility

App requires users to have Apple or Android phones made in the last five years, and a relatively new operating system

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

Most Read