Skip to main content

Canada Marine heat wave off coast of British Columbia concerns scientists

The blob is back – but this time, it looks a little more like a wedge.

Scientists are keeping a close eye on a thin blanket of warm water off the West Coast for about three months, saying it resembles a marine heat wave nicknamed “the blob” that disrupted marine life between 2014 and 2016.

“If it is the same, then it’s very concerning for marine mammals that depend on fish, for seabirds that depend on fish, but also for ocean productivity,” said Andrew Trites, the director of the marine mammal research unit at the University of British Columbia.

Story continues below advertisement

The heat wave – which resembles a wedge, stretching from the south of Vancouver Island to Baja, Calif., and offshore towards Hawaii – has raised temperatures about three to four degrees Celsius higher than the normal longterm average for those parts of the ocean, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“You put on a sweater, you take off a coat,” Trites said. “But for a marine life it’s a big deal. In the ocean it’s a big deal.”

NOAA research scientist Nate Mantua noted that this year’s wedge is at this point less severe than the blob of 2014 to 2016, because it’s only been around for a few months.

Three to five years ago, the warm water penetrated to depths of 200 to 300 metres, while right now it’s mostly between 30 and 50 metres, he said.

“It’s a blanket over the ocean and that means it could go away pretty quickly if the winds start blowing in a normal way,” Mantua said. “That usually happens at this time of the year as we transition into fall.”

So far, the warm expanse has been held offshore by cold water welling from the ocean depths, he said.

“A lot of marine life that we interact with and we see is concentrated closer to shore in the most productive waters of the northeast Pacific,” he said. “Because it’s offshore its mostly affecting those less productive waters.”

Story continues below advertisement

But in addition to being able to dissipate the wedge, winds also have the power to make the heat wave worse.

“Winds have a direct impact on the way heat is exchanged,” he said.

And Mantua said California may already be seeing some of the effects from the warmer waters: NOAA’s surveys have recently noted higher concentration of anchovies – and the big predators that feed on them – close to shore waters.

There’s also been indications that some fish stocks have changed their distribution, he added.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter