Study says natural factors, not humans, behind West Coast warming

When scientists on a boat in the Gulf of Alaska pulled their net in August, they saw something stunning: a live ocean sunfish.

Mostly found in the tropics or temperate waters, these giant 6-foot-long snub-bodied creatures are incredibly rare in Alaska. And that was just the start.

Four days later, one of the same researchers saw a warm-water blue shark circling near another sunfish. Days after that, the boat hauled up yet another living sunfish.

"No one had ever talked about seeing one alive," said Wyatt Fournier, research fish biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Not only did we get two aboard in one week, but my commercial fishing buddies started telling me they were bumping into them when fishing for salmon."

The waters of the Pacific Ocean have been so unusually warm this year that fishermen and researchers from Alaska to California have spied a host of bizarre visitors, from thresher sharks that rarely make it north of Vancouver, B.C., to the northernmost recorded sighting of a skipjack tuna.

Portions of the North Pacific haven't seen sea temperatures this high in at least a century of record-keeping. In some areas, waters are more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit above average.

"The North Pacific hasn't been this warm ever, as far as anyone knows. It's really strange," said Bill Peterson, oceanographer with NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Newport, Ore. "It looks like an El Nino, but it really isn't. We don't really know what it is."

For the moment, oceanographers and atmospheric scientists don't see a link to human-caused climate change, but also say what they've seen doesn't match other recognized patterns in ocean conditions.

They believe the severe warmth may well be the result of poorly understood natural variability - in this case a ridge of high pressure that kept the normally stormy Pacific unusually calm through two winters. That helped prevent cold water at depth from churning up and cooling the ocean surface.

"I don't know that there's much to make of this, other than you've got a really unusual two-winter pattern of weather than left a huge imprint on the ocean," said Nate Mantua, with the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in California.

But, depending on how long the pattern lasts and what comes next, this unusual warmth could have important implications for how and where sea life lives. In some cases, it already has.

The lists of strange sightings along the U.S. West Coast this year is long. Pilot whales, marlin and wahoo have been seen or caught off Southern California. A mahi mahi was caught off the Oregon coast and an uncommon but not unheard-of sunfish washed ashore at Washington's Cape Disappointment State Park.

Fishermen in Alaska have caught a "bumper crop" of black cod and silvery pomfrets near the coast, even though they're usually found way out at sea.

Most striking to many was the skipjack tuna caught near the mouth of the Copper River. According to the bible of fish in that region, "Fishes of Alaska," the only other documented sighting was in 1981 several hundred miles south in Yakutat Bay.

"It's very weird," said Peterson. "When you haven't seen this before in your life, you start making up stories in your head trying to understand what it all means."

Even the tiny plants and animals that form the base of the food chain are different in some places.

"When waters stay warmer, we get waters normally found in Lower 48," said Russ Hopcroft, a plankton expert at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "In the samples we collected in September we had an inundation of species that belong in the south. It was really noticeable."

How that impacts the rest of the marine world is not yet very clear.

"Fish are developed for certain thermal regimes; when the temperature changes, so does their habitat," said Fournier, the NOAA biologist. Temperature also "changes the location of primary food production and the metabolism of fish. As it gets warmer, metabolism increases and fish need more food. But is enough of it there when they need it?"

It's too soon to say how all these changes could impact returning salmon next year and beyond. But there's legitimate cause for concern.

"Everybody is holding their breath," said Laurie Weitkamp, with NOAA in Oregon. "I personally have big concerns about fish that went out this year and certainly for next spring."

Warmer years tend to mean less survival for juvenile salmon, but there's also a timing issue, said Jamal Moss, with NOAA in Alaska.

"They have to match timing of where they are and where the food is in their environment, and warm years tend to mess with that timing," he said.

In many ways the question is about what happens next, whether the warm-water "blob" persists - and where.

"We had funny weather patterns throughout the summer and moved the €˜blob' around a bit and moved it closer to shore," Mantua said. "Now it's a lot closer to shore and not quite as extreme."

Mantua suspects weather patterns are returning to something more predictable. But he's still ready for anything.

"This is the first time we've documented anything like this," he said.


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Nov 04, 2014
In many ways the question is about what happens next, whether the warm-water "blob" persists - and where.


This is a very good question. Think about what this means in terms of heat transfer in this region. It means the water is not cooling down, and it means heat and a lot of it, can ride right up into the Arctic.

http://www.seos-p...res1.png

The Arctic doesn't seem to be much of a buffer anymore. The arctic seas are not coming through the Bering Straight.

A little more picture:
http://psc.apl.wa...eat.html

Nov 04, 2014
The article does not show that this is not due to AGW. The title is provocative, and apparently written by a denier.

One star.

Nov 04, 2014
Worst title I've seen at Phys.org

IT WASN'T A STUDY!

Nov 04, 2014
No qualms about an article written by a denier. Everyone should be at the discussion table. But this article was basically crap, and had no factual evidence to back up the title.

Nov 04, 2014
If they are a denier, then they still don't lower the panic level, 5F is amazing. Focus on the data, focus on the impact.

Nov 04, 2014
I used the contact link at the bottom of the page to let the site know how badly they screwed up the title.

I enjoyed the NEWSPAPER story, I've been fishing the Pacific since 1956 and it's not that uncommon to catch exotics in El Nino years but this IS something new.

For the record, Stripped marlin are a common catch (for those fishing for them) off Southern California but the few Blue Marlin caught this year are a rarity.

Nov 04, 2014
No qualms about an article written by a denier. Everyone should be at the discussion table. But this article was basically crap, and had no factual evidence to back up the title.
Which is precisely what all the denier articles are.

Denialism is anti-science.

Nov 04, 2014
Humans are "not natural", is this new progressive thinking?

Nov 04, 2014
Actually it appears to be new conservatard thinking. You know, considering that it denies AGW without any evidence and other little hints.

And it's the conservatard Babblist religionists that insist that humans are "not natural." Jebus made us special, they claim.

Nov 04, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Nov 04, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Nov 04, 2014
So if you agree that humans are natural, then perhaps their actions are natural as well?

Nov 04, 2014
@tritace, I've considered your theory.
Dark Matter is just cold matter unilluminated by Sun or Stars; lost planets, asteroids, etc..
I think you mean "Dark Energy." Which is much more ominous sounding. But it occurs because the universe is expanding, its effects, if any, should be part of equilibrium if anything, shouldn't they?

Nov 04, 2014
I am sorry team, is there any way this news is not terrifying? No matter what the title is?
Not terrifying the way Godzilla is terrifying, but terrifying the way a motor accident is terrifying?

Nov 05, 2014
I've read the article and consider it a good neutral explanation/speculation of happenings.
See this....

http://www.nwfsc....ndex.cfm

Nov 06, 2014
@tegirinanashisimpleton

So if you agree that humans are natural, then perhaps their actions are natural as well?


Yes their actions are natural. Greed and self centered thinking is ubiquitous in the wild.

It is perfectly natural for a species to enter new areas, overwhelm competition and reproduce uncontrollably.

It is also perfectly natural for a species to deplete there food supplies and fill their environment with excrement.

It is also perfectly natural for such a species to undergo a catastrophic population collapse and face possible extinction.

We humans on the other hand should have sufficient "intelligence" to prevent those things from happening to ourselves, our prodigy and the natural systems that support them.

If you want to continue living with the same thought processes as blue-green algae that's your decision. I, and many others, on the other hand would prefer to maintain this awesome planet for future generations.

Nov 09, 2014
The only proof a AGW religionist believes is from another religionist who says the same thing they believe. If the religionist deviates from accepted AGW religionists dogma then they cannot be believed by an AGW religionists no matter how sound the proofs.

BTW, the USA has another Polar Vortex.... boy it's getting hot around here. http://www.accuwe...37049255


Nov 09, 2014
@freethinking
Thanks for the Polar Vortex thing, I was curious, I don't think it has gone away. Speaking dramatically, the Polar Vortex is Mother Earth bleeding as a result of the wounds we've inflicted on her: A weather cycle circling the North Pole allowing very efficient cycling of heat
And not for nothing, but I am a AGW, well AGC-er, and I fight with the AGW lemmings all the time...
@runrig- That article is amazing, but how about the simple conclusion that arctic ice has retreated far enough that it doesn't have strong effects that far South any longer.

Nov 09, 2014
The only proof a AGW religionist believes is from another religionist who says the same thing they believe. If the religionist deviates from accepted AGW religionists dogma then they cannot be believed by an AGW religionists no matter how sound the proofs.

BTW, the USA has another Polar Vortex.... boy it's getting hot around here. http://www.accuwe...37049255



I wonder how much the polar vortex has to do with how the ozone layer tends to move seasonally.

Nov 10, 2014
"They believe the severe warmth may well be the result of poorly understood natural variability."

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It's us! Only we can do this! With our CO2. LOL

Nov 11, 2014
@JoeBlue, the ozone layer hole has more to do with all the pollution and junk being dumped at the N/S poles as a result of the poles being the ultimate resting place of all weather... Weather starts at the equator and finishes at the poles.
But it carries all out air pollution with it, where it TENDS to stay as a result of the cold and mass and other factors. It's staying is not an absolute, but their is a tendency...

Great observation.

Nov 11, 2014
No qualms about an article written by a denier. Everyone should be at the discussion table
@SteveL
No offense, but i must disagree (about everyone be at the discussion table)
this is the reason there is so much controversy in the US... media give equal time to the deniers while ignoring the overwhelming evidence
if it were represented true to reality, there would be 97 minutes of science for every 3 minutes deniers got
deniers only create confusion over the actual science
IMHO - we should start making the media be more accurate in its representation of reality and the facts... maybe then we could get the deniers to "pull their heads out"?

like Vietvet says... it isn't a study

Where is the study?

personally, i am not at all happy with this ... i prefer articles that link to studies and are supported with science...

IMHO - this is a news article on PO
i can get news from plenty of other sources

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