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!
Value from wastewater
16.08.2017 | Hochschule Landshut
Species Richness – a false friend? Scientists want to improve biodiversity assessments
01.08.2017 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
18.08.2017 | Life Sciences
18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences