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Is "The Blob" merely hiding below the ocean's surface?

Last Updated Feb 10, 2016 at 8:41 am PDT

(iStock Photo)

VANOCUVER (NEWS 1130) – Have we seen the end of “The Blob” — and the extreme weather that has been linked to it — in BC?

Despite recent headlines trumpeting the dissipation of the warm-water phenomenon in the ocean off our coast, it may simply be going undercover rather than disappearing.

At least that’s the assertion of oceanographers like Jennifer Jackson at the Victoria-based Hakai Institute, which operates research stations along the BC Coast.

“Most of the data that NOAA uses are based on satellite imagery, which records temperatures on the surface of the ocean. At the surface, it’s definitely cooler than it was a year or two ago,” says Jackson.

“But we’ve been collecting data off of Calvert Island on the central BC Coast since 2012 and those data measure water temperature down to a few hundred metres. Away from the surface of the ocean the water is still quite warm, one to two degrees warmer than it was in the previous two winters,” she tells NEWS 1130.

The implications of a sunken, rather than surface-based, Blob are not known and Jackson says it will take more long-term monitoring to understand how it will affect seas-life and the climate along the coast.

“We are still learning. We have seen a lot of impacts on animals in the ecosystem and we think what has happened is that the warm water has made it really hard to allow the mixing up of nutrients near the surface so that they are available for the ecosystem. There’s less of the phytoplankton available and less of the zooplankton as well. Some animals have had huge mortalities observed during the Blob.”

That includes the Cassin’s Auklet, a seabird that feeds on zooplankton that has been dying off by the tens of thousands with bodies washing up on beaches in Alaska.

“Also sea lions aren’t doing that well and we think that salmon aren’t doing that well, though that story has yet to be told. We also suspect it will impact some of the whales that feed on plankton,” she says. “There have been a lot of mortalities of whales observed in Alaska as well, though the link between that and the Blob hasn’t been confirmed yet.”

Jackson suggests the jury is still out on how a sunken blob will affect our weather conditions.

“You still have a huge amount of heat stored in the ocean. When you have big storms, they mix down and release some of that heat back into the atmosphere. Though how that fits into the long term climate systems, I don’t know.”

She says long term data collected by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has shown warming trends on the surface of the ocean since 1949.

“I don’t know that we can quite link the Blob to climate change yet, though we can say there has been a big change in the North Pacific over the last 60 years.”

Jackson was among 180 oceanographers who attended a gathering last week at the University of Washington to talk about anomalous conditions in the waters off the West Coast of North America.