Scientists across NOAA Fisheries are watching an expanse of extraordinarily warm water spanning the Gulf of Alaska that could affect marine life. The warm spot – coined the “Warm Blob” by meteorologists – appeared nearly two years ago. The longer it stays, the greater impact it will have on ocean life from jellyfish to salmon, researchers say.
The water in the Warm Blob is about five degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the typical ocean temperature. Marine animals from Mexico to Alaska are impacted and it may be altering weather across the continent.
Although five degrees may not seem like a lot, the concern stems from the fact that the Warm Blob has grown from a small patch of water to 500 miles across, and is the largest and longest-lasting temperature difference on record.
Scientists aren’t sure exactly what caused the blob, but they think it may have links to the California drought. The temperature change also has caused creatures from tropical and temperate zones to wander north into places where they’re not usually found, and others that normally stay far out at sea have ventured closer to the coast, according to a Seattle Times article.
Changes in sea surface temperature can alter marine ecosystems. For example, variations in ocean temperature will affect what species of plants, animals and microbes are present in a location, change migration and breeding patterns, and threaten sensitive ocean life such as corals. Also, because the oceans continuously interact with the atmosphere, sea surface temperature can also have profound effects on global climate. Increases in sea surface temperature have led to an increase in the amount of water vapor over the oceans, increasing the risk of heavy rain and snow. Changes in sea surface temperature can also shift storm tracks, contributing to droughts in some places.
To read more about the Warm Blob phenomenon, click on this recent article from Discovery: http://news.discovery.com/earth/oceans/mysterious-warm-water-blob-in-pacific-wreaking-havoc-150617.htm