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Dead Zone off the Oregon Coast: "Some Kind of Tipping of the Balance"
Emily Gertz, 13 Aug 04

For the second time in three years, an oceanic dead zone has been detected off the coast of Oregon. Falling levels of dissolved oxygen in the water have created a "hypoxic zone" that cannot support marine life.

The immediate culprit is a huge influx of cold water, low in oxygen and high in nutrients, which caused an algae bloom that polished off the last of the O2.

The larger cause may be a global warming-induced change in Pacific Ocean circulation.

The Newport News-Times reports:

Two weeks ago, Brandon Ford, then a part-time writer for the [Newport] News-Times, reported seeing dead crabs on the beach. And last Thursday, Bill Hanshumaker, public marine education specialist at the O.S.U. Hatfield Marine Science Center, reported that "adult and chick common murres have been found dead on the beach recently" - apparently from having starved to death...

The larger driver is, it appears, a change in the currents of this part of the Pacific. "There's been some change in a larger area of the Pacific," said [Oregon State University marine scientist Jane] Lubchenko, "that we still do not understand. It is bringing sub-arctic water up onto the continental shelf, instead of taking it further off our coast. That change seems to set up the conditions for the hypoxia. It's the first step," and a strong upwelling is the second...

Jack Barth, an oceanographer with the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University, said he thinks the three hypoxic events "signal some kind of tipping of the balance in a very productive ecosystem out there. I think we're just in the early stages of understanding the bigger cause. Is it a large-scale and long-term tie to climate variability? That's hard to pin down. It will take a few more years to get into a longer cycle" and begin to answer that question, he said."

Jon posted earlier this week about the starvation of the birds off Scotland's Northern Isles. Rising ocean temperatures are killing off the fish that they have lived on for millions of years.

A week of very disturbing news.

(Via Tidepool and NPR)

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The "three" incidents that Barth refers to include a 'near miss' hypoxic event off the coast last year.

Posted by: emily on 13 Aug 04

Important to note that the Oregon dead zone is much smaller than the gulf one, and not directly caused by toxicity. But the possible tie to global warming is scary.

Posted by: Howard on 13 Aug 04

This is getting good play locally (Portland).

Nothing's going to happen until Kennebunkport, Orange County, and large chunks of Texas are wiped out by some nasty cataclysm. It's easy to ignore fishermen, and even farmers, put out of business. When golf courses become unsustainable, then folks will pay attention.

Until then, Bush will promise some Corps of Engineers money and move on to the next fundraiser.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 13 Aug 04

Yes, from what I read, toxicity has been definitively ruled out.

Stefan, I feel your cynicism, but I do hope you're wrong. Fishing is a multi-million-dollar business in Oregon--if it's only money that talks, well, there is a lot there. Farming, too.

Recently, several state attorneys general have filed a global warming lawsuit against five major utilities...they are not waiting around any more for federal-level action. It's an important development.

Posted by: Emily Gertz on 14 Aug 04

Global warming might be the next cash cow for class action lawyers. The democratic party could use the cash inflow right now to counteract the fat cat republicans. Even if global warming is not responsible, a good lawyer can win over a jury in a court of law. That would be music to my ears.

Posted by: Conrad on 16 Aug 04

I assume you mean "polished off the rest of the O2" (not polished off the last of the H2O)"

Thanks for the post and many thanks for keeping an eye on these issues!

Posted by: David Rankin on 17 Aug 04

whoops, thanks for catching that. I've corrected it in the entry.

Posted by: Emily Gertz on 17 Aug 04



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