Marine heat wave could be catastrophic for Oregon's ecosystems

A similar heat wave five years ago disrupted salmon returns and had other far-reaching impacts on our wildlife, scientists say.

Posted: Sep 6, 2019 4:58 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- The Pacific Ocean is experiencing a heat wave, and it could be catastrophic for our ecosystems, scientists say.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report on Thursday, saying the temperature of the ocean is 5 degrees above average. They call it a “marine heat wave.”

Michael Milstein, who works with NOAA, said in June scientists noticed a large portion of the Pacific Ocean off the Oregon Coast had gotten warmer.

Five years ago, scientists said a similar “blob” of warm water disrupted the ecosystem on the West Coast and severely impacted the return of salmon in Oregon.

“We saw salmon not surviving as well, and we are still seeing some of the results of that in terms of the salmon returns in the last couple years,” Milstein said.

He said with sea lions not getting enough to eat, their pups were stranding themselves on beaches. Milstein also said we are still feeling the effects of that phenomenon.

And now scientists said they’re noticing the same warming trends in the same area.

The cause of this heat wave is not clear, but Milstein said scientists do have leads.

“What we think is happening is that area in the atmosphere is basically reducing the winds that typically blow across the ocean that mix it up and cool the ocean that way,” Milstein said.

Scientists with NOAA and Oregon State University said the future is unclear, and we will have to wait and see.

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