The blob as seen in April 2015, now pressed against the West Coast. (Credit: NOAA National Climate Data Center)
El Niño had huge impacts on conditions around the world through parts of 2015 and 2016, including beach erosion in California, drought in South America and record rainfall in the United States’ Pacific Northwest. We have covered those and other impacts in this magazine as well as published an infographic detailing the phenomenon. But we haven’t talked much about a patch of warm water in the Pacific Ocean known as “the Blob.”
Scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have recently led research into some of the impacts the Blob had over the last year. There was a lot of speculation concerning which weather phenomenon would be more dominant in the Pacific. To investigate, data for the effort were gathered by autonomous gliders as well as ocean models.
Together with El Niño, researchers found that the Blob helped to strongly depress productivity off the West Coast. The Blob, in fact, seemed to drive most of the impact because El Niño was weaker than expected.
Now that the Blob and El Niño are both on their way out, a heavily disrupted ecosystem lies in their wake. Unusually warm ocean conditions, near 5 degrees Fahrenheit above average, have slowed the flow of deep-ocean nutrients and impacted productivity in coastal ecosystems.
Some of the negative effects of the warmer waters have included humpback whales being found closer to shore, pelagic red crabs washing up on central California beaches and more sportfish in southern California. A research article detailing the shifts can be found in the journal Geophysical Research Letters
A closely related article, published in Scientific Reports, discusses the types of conditions that the area needs to thrive. Instead of the warming trajectory that it’s on, cooler conditions are more ideal. A major factor is wind — just the right amount of strength is needed to spur a healthy level of productivity.
Top image: The Blob in the Pacific Ocean affects areas near the coast of California. (Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)