Since 2013, a patch of unusually warm water known as “the blob” has been spreading across the Pacific Ocean right off the U.S. coast, causing problems both at sea and on land.
The increased temperatures in typically temperate climates like Puget Sound and the Gulf of Alaska have made it hard for cold-water species to thrive, leading to an increase in toxic algal blooms - unwelcome changes that have made Washington shut down multiple fishing industries.
The blob, named for its abnormal shape and erratic expansion pattern, shows no signs of dissipating, and may even be responsible for the warm air that has caused prolonged droughts in California and Washington.
Dr. Nicholas Bond, a research meteorologist and climatologist at the University of Washington, joins Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd to discuss what we know about the blob, and what we can learn from what he calls "a cruel joke by mother nature."
Interview Highlights: Nicholas Bond
On where the name "the blob" came from
"It first manifested in a kind of quasi-circular patch in a very unusual way that we hadn't seen before. A thousand miles across or so off the Pacific Northwest, and I started calling it 'the blob' because we hadn't seen that pattern before, and with anticipation that it would evolve. And sure enough it did where it is kind of moving around, kind of squishy, and I think the more I think about it, 'the blob' isn't a bad kind of analogy for it, because it's not a real static sort of situation."
On the effects of increasing water temperatures
"The waters along the entire west coast of North America, from Mexico up to the Gulf of Alaska and into the Bering Sea are considerably warmer than normal. In places, [the increase is] more than three degrees Celsius, which maybe doesn't sound like a lot, five degrees Fahrenheit or so, but it is actually a very big perturbation for the ocean. It basically favors the warm water species versus the cold water species, and we're seeing that, that the subtropical kind of fish and plankton and so forth are spreading north, and the ones that are more adapted to cold water are doing more poorly."
"The waters along the entire west coast of North America, from Mexico up to the Gulf of Alaska and into the Bering Sea are considerably warmer than normal. In places, [the increase is] more than three degrees Celsius."
"Especially at the base of the food chain, it turns out that the zooplankton that are key to the whole ecosystem, the cold-water species have more fat in them, and are more nutritious, and so a lot of the sea birds, marine mammals and fish like salmon, they prefer those cold-water species because they're just more filling. It's like eating a Big Mac rather than a stalk celery."
What are climate scientists learning from "the blob"?
"It's teaching us which species are resilient to these kinds of things, and which are more sensitive. And basically, who the winners and losers are. And there are some winners - climate scientists, fishery oceanographers, the management side of things is where that's happening, and we're all using this whopping signal that's been delivered to us to kind of figure out how this system works."
- Nicholas Bond, state climatologist for the state of Washington and research meteorologist and climatologist at the University of Washington.
This segment aired on August 7, 2015.