El Niño exerted powerful effects around the
globe in the last year, eroding California beaches; driving drought in northern
South America, Africa and Asia; and bringing record rain to the U.S. Pacific
Northwest and southern South America.
In the Pacific Ocean off the West Coast,
however, the California Current Ecosystem was already unsettled by an unusual
pattern of warming popularly known as "The Blob."
New research based on ocean models and near
real-time data from autonomous gliders indicates that the "The Blob"
and El Niño together strongly depressed productivity off the West Coast, with
The Blob driving most of the impact.
The research published in the journal
Geophysical Research Letters http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016GL069716/full
by scientists from NOAA Fisheries, Scripps
Institution of Oceanography and University of California, Santa Cruz is among
the first to assess the marine effects of the 2015-2016 El Niño off the West
Coast of the United States.
"Last year there was a lot of speculation
about the consequences of 'The Blob' and El Niño battling it out off the U.S.
West Coast," said lead author Michael Jacox, of UC Santa Cruz and NOAA
Fisheries' Southwest Fisheries Science Center. "We found that off
California El Niño turned out to be much weaker than expected, The Blob
continued to be a dominant force, and the two of them together had strongly
negative impacts on marine productivity."
"Now, both The Blob and El Niño are on
their way out, but in their wake lies a heavily disrupted ecosystem,"
Unusually warm ocean temperatures that took on
the name, The Blob, began affecting waters off the West Coast in late 2013.
Warm conditions - whether driven by the Blob or El Niño - slow the flow of
nutrients from the deep ocean, reducing the productivity of coastal ecosystems.
Temperatures close to 3 degrees C (5 degrees F) above average also led to
sightings of warm-water species far to the north of their typical range and
likely contributed to the largest harmful algal bloom ever recorded on the West
Coast last year.
"These past years have been extremely
unusual off the California coast, with humpback whales closer to shore, pelagic
red crabs washing up on the beaches of central California, and sportfish in
higher numbers in southern California," said Elliott Hazen of the
Southwest Fisheries Science Center, a coauthor of the paper. "This paper
reveals how broad scale warming influences the biology directly off our
The research paper describes real-time
monitoring of the California Current Ecosystem with the latest technology,
including autonomous gliders that track undersea conditions along the West
"This work reflects technological
advances that now let us rapidly assess the effects of major climate
disruptions and project their impacts on the ecosystem," Jacox said.
Separate but related research recently
published in Scientific Reports http://www.nature.com/articles/srep27612
identifies the optimal conditions for
productivity in the California Current off the West Coast, which will help
assess the future effects of climate change or climate variability such as El
Niño. The research was authored by the same scientists at UC Santa Cruz and
"Wind has a 'goldilocks effect' on
productivity in the California Current," Hazen said. "If wind is too
weak, nutrients limit productivity, and if wind is too strong, productivity is
moved offshore or lost to the deep ocean. Understanding how wind and nutrients
drive productivity provides context for events like the Blob and El Niño, so we
can better understand how the ecosystem is likely to respond."
Both papers emphasize the importance of
closely monitoring West Coast marine ecosystems for the impacts of a changing
climate. Although the tropical signals of El Niño were strong, the drivers -
called "teleconnections" - that usually carry the El Niño pattern
from the tropics to the West Coast were not as effective as in previous strong
"Not all El Niños evolve in the same way
in the tropics, nor are their impacts the same off our coast," said Steven
Bograd, a research scientist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center and
coauthor of both papers. "Local conditions, in this case from the Blob,
can modulate the way our ecosystem responds to these large scale climate
-- CBB, April 10, 2015, “‘Warm Blob’ Of Water
Off West Coast Linked To Warmer Temps, Disruption Of Marine Food” http://www.cbbulletin.com/433648.aspx