Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Marine 'dead zone' off Oregon is spreading

31.07.2006
A hypoxic "dead zone" has formed off the Oregon Coast for the fifth time in five years, according to researchers at Oregon State University.

A fundamental new trend in atmospheric and ocean circulation patterns in the Pacific Northwest appears to have begun, scientists say, and apparently is expanding its scope beyond Oregon waters.

This year for the first time, the effect of the low-oxygen zone is also being seen in coastal waters off Washington, researchers at OSU and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary indicate.

There have been reports of dead crabs stretching from the central Oregon coast to the central Washington coast. Some dissolved oxygen levels at 180 feet have recently been measured as low as 0.55 milliliters per liter, and areas as shallow as 45 feet have been measured at 1 milliliter per liter.

These oxygen levels are several times lower than normal, and any dissolved oxygen level below 1.4 milliliters per liter is hypoxic, capable of suffocating a wide range of fish, crabs, and other marine life.

"There is a huge pool of low-oxygen water off the central Oregon coast with values as low as 0.46 milliliters per liter," said Francis Chan, marine ecologist in the OSU Department of Zoology and with the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO), a marine research consortium at OSU and other universities along the West Coast.

"OSU researchers have documented this year's region of low-oxygen bottom waters from Florence to Cascade Head," Chan said. "The lack of consistent upwelling winds allowed a low-oxygen pool of deep water to build up. Now that the upwelling-favorable winds are blowing consistently, we're seeing that pool of water come close to shore and begin to suffocate marine life. If these winds continue to blow, we expect to see continued and possibly significant die-offs."

As events such as this become more regular, researchers say, they appear less like an anomaly and more like a fundamental shift in marine conditions and ocean behavior. In particular, a change in intensity and timing of coastal winds seems to play a significant role in these events.

"We're seeing wild swings from year to year in the timing and duration of winds favorable for upwelling," said Jack Barth, an oceanographer with PISCO and the OSU College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. "This change from normal seasonal patterns and the increased variability are both consistent with climate change scenarios."

Barth and his colleagues are working on new circulation models that may allow scientists to predict when hypoxia and these "dead zones" will occur. No connection has been observed between these events and other major ocean cycles, such as El Niño or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

The lack of wide-scale ocean monitoring makes determining the size and movement of the dead zone difficult, although some new instrumentation being used this year by OSU scientists is helping. Dissolved oxygen sensors have been deployed on the sea floor both close to shore and in 260 feet of water off Newport, some of which are sending data in near real-time.

In addition, a new underwater unmanned vehicle equipped with sensors to measure temperature, salinity, chlorophyll and dissolved oxygen is routinely sampling across central Oregon waters.

During normal years, cold water rich in nutrients but low in oxygen upwells from the deep ocean off Oregon, mixes with oxygen-rich water near the surface, causes some phytoplankton growth and provides the basis for a thriving fishery and healthy marine food chain. During dead zone periods, some of the normal processes – including wind and current conditions – can change. This allows huge masses of plant growth to die, decay and in the process consume even more of the available oxygen near the sea floor, causing hypoxic conditions for marine life.

The first event in 2002 caused a massive die-off of fish and invertebrate marine species on the central Oregon coast. Less severe and somewhat different events occurred in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

The 2006 "dead zone" has a wider north-south extent. Some crabbers in the central Washington coast reported all dead crabs in pots at depths of about 45-90 feet, north of the Moclips River. Large numbers of dead Dungeness crab have been reported on the beach as far north as Kalaloch. Numerous species of bottom fish have been found dead on the beach south of the Quinault River in Washington.

In Oregon, the most vulnerable area in recent years has been the central third of the coast between about Newport and Florence, where conditions seem to be conducive to the development of low-oxygen waters. It's not always easy to measure the biological impact of the dead zones, because many dead animals may be washed out to the deep sea. But researchers say that this year's event may ultimately be as severe as the first one in 2002, although it reflects slightly different wind and ocean current conditions.

Collaborating on this research are scientists from OSU, PISCO, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, University of Washington and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

Researchers say that it's difficult to tell what long-term ecological impacts these dead zone events may have on marine ecosystems.

"Many marine species live in fairly specialized ecological niches and any time you change the fundamental physics, chemistry and nature of the system, it's a serious concern," Barth said.

Jane Lubchenco, the Valley Professor of Marine Biology at OSU and principle investigator for PISCO, also said that the biological monitoring of species health and impacts in the nearshore Pacific Ocean is "grossly inadequate," making it difficult to evaluate the long-term impacts of low-oxygen and other events.

Jane Lubchenco | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.oregonstate.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Dune ecosystem modelling
23.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht Understanding animal social networks can aid wildlife conservation
23.06.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>