(ORDO NEWS) — Like its movie namesake, the horrendous marine heat wave nicknamed “The Ball” destroyed much in its path during its peak, causing mass deaths of fish, birds and many other marine animals, threatening the fishing industry.
Since then, the “orb”, at least for a short time, has appeared twice, hinting at the latent permanence of its cause.
The researchers have now identified systematic warming in the Pacific that contributed to the patch’s growth, and their modeling confirms that – as previously thought – it is not the result of natural climate fluctuations.
“The discovery of long-term warming will give us crucial information about the likelihood of such extreme events in the future,” says Armine Barkhordaryan, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Hamburg.
Barkhordaryan and colleagues have found a persistent pool of warming water in the Pacific Northeast, with average annual temperature increases of about 0.4°C per decade. Summer water temperatures are now 37 days longer than they were 20 years ago.
The team also found a decrease in the amount of low clouds, which normally have a cooling effect on the underlying waters, over the region during the cold season. This reinforces the high pressure atmospheric systems over the warm water pool during the winter.
Using numerous models, the team calculated that there is less than a 5 percent chance that this high-pressure system is unusually hardened in winter due to natural fluctuations.
The simulations also showed that there is less than a 1 percent chance that Shar could have formed in 2019 were it not for the excess greenhouse gases that humans are pumping into our atmosphere. During this marine heatwave, temperatures reached up to 6°C above average.
These findings support those of previous studies that ‘blob-like’ marine heatwaves are 20 times more likely now due to anthropogenic climate change.
“This warming of the basin will continue to increase water temperatures in the future, increasing both the frequency and intensity of local marine heatwaves. The sharp increase in mean water temperature is pushing ecosystems to the limit,” explains Barkhordarian.
A suffocating, hot blob of water that began in 2013 wiped out marine life, killing more than 100 million Pacific cod, thousands of seabirds and other unrecorded animals.
It also caused massive toxic algal blooms that shut down fishing operations and may have contributed to a 75 percent reduction in whale sightings with mothers and calves.
The mysterious Starfish Wasting Syndrome also appeared nearby at the same time as the first Blob.
Moreover, these marine heatwaves are by no means limited to the North Pacific. Similar phenomena of rapid ocean warming are damaging fisheries and ecosystems from the Atlantic to the South Seas.
In addition to direct impacts on wildlife, marine heatwaves can also contribute to severe droughts in nearby areas.
More frequent and extreme marine heatwaves are a serious toll on affected ecosystems,” warns Barkhordaryan.
“Not only does this pose a huge threat to biodiversity, but it could also push these marine ecosystems past a critical point where they can no longer recover.”
We still have the ability to reduce the impact and severity of these marine heatwaves, and many people around the world, from researchers to activists, are fighting for it.
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