Ocean-Based Heat Wave Signals Warmer California Fall

October 4, 2019 Updated: October 4, 2019

A marine heat wave detected off the coast of California could mean higher-than-average temperatures on the west coast this fall.

It’s the second biggest ocean-based heat phenomenon measured in the last four decades, according to Andrew Leising, oceanographer for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, who created a model that uses satellite data to track marine heat waves in the Pacific.

Leising told The Epoch Times that the only recent marine heat wave bigger than the current phenomenon occurred in 2014. It was dubbed “the blob” and lasted for two years.

Warming up the ocean by several degrees for a 1,000-mile stretch from Alaska to California, it caused greater heat and humidity along the coast and “triggered long-lasting toxic algae blooms, depleted Chinook salmon populations, and caused hundreds of sea lions to starve,” according to Curbed.

Oceanographers are uncertain of the cause, although it might be linked to a low-pressure weather pattern north of Hawaii that has kept warm surface waters from mixing with cooler waters in the North Pacific, said Jamison Gove, an oceanographer with NOAA, to the Associated Press.

The current heat wave – named “The Northeast Pacific Marine Heatwave of 2019” – began in mid-June in the same area, Leising said. Because ocean surface temperatures have risen 2 to 3 degrees, he believes that the current heat wave is “on a trajectory to be as strong as the prior event.”

The 2019 heat wave already measures 2.5 million square miles, and the 2013 event totaled 3 million square miles.

Currently, Leising’s group is tracking the new marine heat wave, and if atmospheric conditions persist, “it is likely to have impacts on coastal ecosystems this fall,” according to the California Current Marine Heat Wave Tracker website.

“Marine heatwaves, or MHWs, occur when ocean temperatures are much warmer than usual for an extended period of time; they are specifically defined by differences in expected temperatures for the location and time of year,” states the website.

MHWs can affect ecosystem structure, biodiversity, and even economies, says the group.

“Researchers documented many ecological effects associated with the blob, including unprecedented harmful algal blooms, shifting distributions of marine life, and changes in the marine food web.”

The MHW Tracker is a program that attempts to research and provide context for the blob, while offering a range of indices to estimate the possibility of future MHWs that could affect the California coast.

Because of the enormous effects of the previous MHW on natural resources, researchers are eager to share the MHW Tacker’s predictions with officials of businesses, organizations that preserve natural resources and communities in order to anticipate problems in the future.

The equipment “automatically analyzes sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTa) from 1984 to the present, with a particular focus on detecting the presence of significant ‘blob-class’ events. Sea surface temperature (SST) data were obtained from a variety of different platforms (satellites, ships, buoys) on a regular global grid at a resolution of ¼ of a degree.”

The researchers categorize MHWS in terms of their strength, size, and duration. They believe that the MHWs most likely to have significant effects on the west coast will be approximately 25 percent of the area of Alaska, come within 250 kilometers of the coast, and have a duration of at least three months.

“We are continuing to monitor the area, duration, and coastal proximity of this MHW and are coordinating with other researchers and policy-makers to understand the array of possible west coast impacts,” according to the website.