Climate change may be stoking stronger winds, altered oceans

February 2, 2009 By Suzanne Bohan, Contra Costa Times

The specter of an ocean floor littered with dead shellfish, rock fish, sea stars and other marine life off the Oregon coast spurred Mark Snyder, a climate change expert, to investigate whether California's coast faced a similar calamity.

It could, the University of California Santa Cruz earth scientist said, citing climate change, which some scientists believe is responsible for stronger and more persistent winds along the coast. There's no debate that windier conditions drive more upwelling of nutrient-rich deep ocean waters.

At normal levels, this upwelling sustains the abundance of marine life, but too much of these rich waters leads to a boom-and-bust cycle that ultimately creates ocean "dead zones" with little or no oxygen. Marine life that can't swim or scuttle away from these lethal zones suffocate.

To assess future wind and upwelling scenarios along the California coast, Snyder and his colleagues at UC Santa Cruz ran climate simulations for two time periods. One spanned from 1968 to 2000, verifying the accuracy of the modeling. The second simulated the region's estimated climate from 2038 to 2070, using the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change "high-growth" emissions projections. Snyder said he chose the high emissions scenario because today's are exceeding earlier IPCC estimates.

The results showed increases in wind speeds of as much as 2 meters per second, a 40 percent increase from current wind speeds, which now average 5 meters per second, Snyder said.

The change in wind speeds is already happening, Snyder said. California winds have been growing in strength in the past 30 years.

Snyder said he knows his hypothesis needs more research, so he'll know whether to continue pursuing it or to discard it. The latter is unlikely, he said, given the new cycle of dead zones on the Oregon and Washington coasts that started in 2002.

"It was just chance they found the dead zones in Oregon," Snyder said, describing how fishers reported to marine scientists an alarming number of dead or dying crabs they were pulling up in traps.

"It's quite possible these areas could be off the California coast," he said.

After the Oregon fishers reported their sickly catches, and divers described seeing bottom-dwelling fish in high waters or schools of fishes massing near an invisible wall - behind which was low-oxygen water - scientists from Oregon State University, along with state and federal marine experts, began investigating.

That year, and in years since, researchers have sent down a robot equipped with a video camera to record the carnage. They've also deployed a fleet of robotic "gliders" to maintain constant vigil on oxygen levels and other conditions along the Oregon coast, as well as a sophisticated monitoring buoy.

The worst year recorded was 2006, with the dead zone near the coast spreading from southern Oregon into Washington, where dead fish and crabs washed up on beaches along the Olympic Peninsula. Less severe dead zones returned in 2007.

"We've seen areas that are carpeted with dead marine life," said Oregon State marine ecologist Francis Chan. One video image stuck in his mind: A large dead sea star that must have been decades old, rotting in the water. Marine life such as that, which adhere to rocks most of their lives, can't scurry away from suffocating waters, he said. "It was pretty striking."

In normal years, winds blowing from north to south drive upwelling in the spring and summer months off the Pacific Coast. These strengthened winds drive surface waters offshore, making room for deeper, nutrient-rich waters to surface, where sunlight triggers a heavy growth of phytoplankton, the bottom rung of the marine food chain.

But when the winds don't slacken and upwelling persists, excess phytoplankton blooms. When the uneaten plankton dies and sinks to the ocean floor, bacteria consuming it deplete the oxygen in the water.

Like so many other climate change projections, the scientists know they can't definitely point to greenhouse gases as the sole culprit behind windier conditions along the coast. But no other explanation fits, given the historical patterns of winds and upwelling, according to a primer from Oregon State on hypoxia, the technical term for oxygen depletion in waters.

A phenomenon called El Nino, which cycles in and out, doesn't explain it, or what's known as decadal oscillations, Chan said. "They're not at play here," Chan said. "So something else is likely at play."

Other scientists aren't convinced that wind-driven upwelling is occurring off the California coast. It is known that oxygen levels have been declining in deeper waters since 1984, when researchers started monitoring it in California coastal waters.

"That's something we're seeing along the California coast," said Frank Schwing, an oceanographer with the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Pacific Grove.

Although large bodies of oxygen-poor water far offshore are normal, the rapid expansion of these waters is not. And scientists link it, in part, to climate change, Schwing said.

These offshore low-oxygen waters in California differ from dead zones in Oregon. The latter are close to shore, where they've never been seen before, and they're killing sea life. Such die-offs haven't been seen in California.

"If you drive up Highway 101, you're not going to look far off to see dead zones," said Chan, with Oregon State. "They're less than a mile from the surf zone." But the expansion of these large volumes of hypoxic water far off the California coast does increase the odds they could reach the coastline, Schwing said. It also narrows the band of oxygen-rich surface waters far offshore that can sustain life.

"The implication is it's easier to create these hypoxic events," Schwing said.

For Chan, the phenomenon drives home the sensitivity and dynamism of the ocean, which responds swiftly to atmospheric changes.

"We shouldn't be seeing these big changes, not in something as simple as oxygen levels on our coast," he said. "And we're seeing these big flips."


(c) 2009, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.).
Visit the Contra Costa Times on the Web at
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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3.3 / 5 (7) Feb 02, 2009
More products of planetary death syndrome.
2.3 / 5 (6) Feb 02, 2009
I agree... California is in big trouble...
4.2 / 5 (6) Feb 03, 2009
There is nothing wrong with hypoxic water. This article is more alarmist BS.
3.7 / 5 (6) Feb 04, 2009
Winds are caused by temperature differences between cold and hot. Since AGW is supposed to be affecting the polar regions more than the equatorial then you expect the winds to decrease in strength.
3 / 5 (4) Feb 05, 2009
Don't worry, the AGW alarmists haven't got a clue as to what they are talking about. They believe that if you just keep trying to atribute every conceiveable change in nature to global warming then this must make AGW real. When will they realize that the Emporer has no clothes!
3 / 5 (2) Feb 05, 2009
The only truth about climate change is change. Climate has never been "stable" and the observational records show that the weather events and average temperatures we're now seeing are very common and nothing out of the ordinary.

This isn't a point of skepticism, this is reality. There's a reason why the studies in the AGW camp pick certain starting points for observation, and contrary to popular belief it has nothing to do with a lack of data prior to that point. It has everything to do with picking an established point in time and using that data to make a trend appear abnormal.

For example, most AGCC studies pick 1970 as a starting point for temperature data.

In 1965 UNESCO held a meterology conference aimed at determining the future climate as there was an observed cooling trend starting in the 50's.
%u201CIndeed, the Earth appeared to have been cooling for more than 2 decades when scientists first took note of the change in trend in the 1960s. The seminal work was done by J. Murray Mitchell [in 1963, showing that] global temperatures had increased fairly steadily from the 1880s, the start of his record, until about 1940, before the start of a steady multidecade cooling (Mitchell 1963). By the early 1970s, when Mitchell updated his work (Mitchell 1972), the notion of a global cooling trend was widely accepted, albeit poorly understood.

The first satellite records showed increasing snow and ice cover across the Northern Hemisphere from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. This trend was capped by unusually severe winters in Asia and parts of North America in 1972 and 1973 (Kukla and Kukla 1974),which pushed the issue into the public consciousness (Gribbin 1975). The new data about global temperatures came amid growing concerns about world food supplies, triggering fears that a planetary cooling trend might threaten humanity%u2019s ability to feed itself (Thompson 1975).%u201C

Now with multiple papers, (preceding those referenced above), touting global cooling and the dawn of a new ice age on the way Time magazine published their now famous cover page article "Another Ice Age?" in June of 74.

From the article:
Telltale signs are everywhere %u2014from the unexpected persistence and thickness of pack ice in the waters around Iceland to the southward migration of a warmth-loving creature like the armadillo from the Midwest.Since the 1940s the mean global temperature has dropped about 2.7° F. Although that figure is at best an estimate, it is supported by other convincing data. When Climatologist George J. Kukla of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory and his wife Helena analyzed satellite weather data for the Northern Hemisphere, they found that the area of the ice and snow cover had suddenly increased by 12% in 1971 and the increase has persisted ever since. Areas of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, for example, were once totally free of any snow in summer; now they are covered year round.

Now when we look at modern global climate change views they use some key words.

As they review the bizarre and unpredictable weather pattern of the past several years, a growing number of scientists are beginning to suspect that many seemingly contradictory meteorological fluctuations are actually part of a global climatic upheaval. However widely the weather varies from place to place and time to time... The trend shows no indication of reversing.

The above looks at home in just about any current day AGCC publication.

Is it any surprise that it's from the very same Time magazine article from June 24th, 1974?

Below is the same comment, unabridged:
As they review the bizarre and unpredictable weather pattern of the past several years, a growing number of scientists are beginning to suspect that many seemingly contradictory meteorological fluctuations are actually part of a global climatic upheaval. However widely the weather varies from place to place and time to time, when meteorologists take an average of temperatures around the globe they find that the atmosphere has been growing gradually cooler for the past three decades. The trend shows no indication of reversing.

This alone is reason for skepticism, the fanatical and zealous arguments of "consensus" and "settled science" give further reason for doubt.

What was the armadillo is now the polar bear. Remember the "Save the Armadillo!" campaigns? Probably not unless you're over 40.

Remember the series of wild tornado activity over the midwest US, or the wild famine outbreaks in Africa and the Middle East due to unseasonably cold weather? Probably not unless you're in your 50's.

Climate changes, we remain ignorant.
1 / 5 (2) Feb 07, 2009
For example, most AGCC studies pick 1970 as a starting point for temperature data.

That might be because this is the time period around which industrial aerosols were reduced due to air quality concerns. From 1940 to 1970, aerosols produced a cooling effect which countered the buildup of CO2 over the same time period. That factor is negligible now.

Now with multiple papers, (preceding those referenced above), touting global cooling and the dawn of a new ice age on the way Time magazine published their now famous cover page article "Another Ice Age?" in June of 74.

The "global cooling" myth of the 1970's was propagated by popular media outlets. Most peer-reviewed journal articles actually predicted warming, not cooling.


It's facts like these that the lying liars of big oil's Church of Global Warming Denialism don't like their flock of drooling sheep to learn. They might actually start *gasp* THINKING.

(Of course, facts and evidence mean nothing to the most devout practitioners of global warming denialism, but there's always the chance that someone might be saved from big oil's campaign of ignorance.)
not rated yet Feb 07, 2009
The "global cooling" myth of the 1970's was propagated by popular media outlets. Most peer-reviewed journal articles actually predicted warming, not cooling.

By the way, in line with the first few lines of your linked abstract, climatology didn't exist in the 60's and 70's, but geophysics, atmospheric sciences, and of course NOAA, NASA, and Meteorology all existed. Same horse, different rider.

In addition to that, the majority of research today states that the climate is completely in line with natural variation.

You weren't aware of that were you?

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