Does the ‘Blob’ foretell North Pacific future? A scientist says yes.

The Bering Sea, where average sea-surface temperatures in summer are expected to be 4 degrees Celsius higher than they were in the second half of the 20th century. (iStock)
There is good news and bad news about the big warm-water “Blob” that has wreaked havoc on the North Pacific for the past three years, an expert told fellow scientists at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium in Anchorage.

The good news: The unusual warm conditions that have persisted in the waters off Alaska and the West Coast now appear to be diminishing, said the climatologist who named the water mass the “Blob.” Seasonal forecasts are calling for only a slightly warmer-than-normal Gulf of Alaska for next summer, “suggesting this event is winding down,” said research meteorologist Nick Bond of the University of Washington. “So I think that’s good news for many aspects of the ecosystem.”

The bad news: The higher temperatures that emerged at the end of 2013 and seemed so remarkable could become the norm in future decades.

If carbon emissions continue on their current path, average April-to-June sea-surface temperatures in the second half of this century are expected to be 3.2 degrees Celsius (5.8 degrees Fahrenheit) higher in the Gulf of Alaska than they were in the second half of the 20th century, said Bond, who also serves as the Washington state climatologist.

In the Bering Sea, where sea ice is expected to disappear even in winter, average sea-surface temperatures in summer are expected to be 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than they were in the second half of the 20th century with those carbon emissions, Bond told the symposium audience.

“You can see that (these kinds) of sustained temperature increases are going to be even greater than what we just experienced here with this event,” he said.

Impacts on animals

The unusually warm waters in the North Pacific are believed to be linked to a series of animal illnesses and deaths, big algal blooms and marine oddities over the past few years.

Dozens of large whales were found dead in 2015 and 2016 in the Gulf of Alaska, an occurrence that federal regulators formally designated as an “unexplained mortality event” warranting detailed examination.

Tens of thousands of dead common murres have been found since last spring on Gulf of Alaska beaches — and in unusual inland areas — in what is believed to be the biggest die-off of that species.

An unprecedented die-off of tufted puffins was discovered this past fall when more than 200 emaciated carcasses washed up on St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea.

Sea otters in Kachemak Bay were found sick or dead in 2015 from what appeared to be algal-produced toxins; misshapen and dead sea stars were also found that year in Kachemak Bay, a site once thought to be too cold to harbor the wasting disease that has been killing sea stars in more southern waters.

Problems emerged all the way down the West Coast; thousands of starving sea lion pups have turned up stranded on the California coast, prompting another unusual mortality event designation.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Is climate change making the muskoxen sick on Victoria Island?, Eye on the Arctic

Finland:  Climate change brings new insect arrivals to Finland, Yle News

Greenland:  The changing sea ice & what it means for Inuit, Eye on the Arctic

NorwayClimate researchers are building on 90 cm higher ground, prepare for the worst in Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia:  Ancient virus found in Arctic permafrost, Alaska Dispatch News

Sweden:  How will global warming affect the average Swede?, Radio Sweden

United States: Northwest Arctic officials move ahead on new school for climate-threatened village, Alaska Dispatch News

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