Algae toxin found in West Coast fish for first time

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A series of Landsat 8 images captures the scope of the algae blooms off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

Global warming is poisoning the seas

Staff Report

Warm ocean temperatures in the Pacific led to what researchers now are calling an unprecedented bloom of toxic algae along the west coast of North America in 2015. The algal toxin domoic acid was found in samples from a wide range of marine organisms — and for the first time, in the muscle tissue of several commercial fish species.

Scientists from the University of California, Santa Cruz led the investigations into the spread of the toxin through the marine food web, finding that it persisted in Dungeness crab months after the algal bloom disappeared from coastal waters.

Domoic acid is a potent neurotoxin produced by a type of microscopic algae called Pseudo-nitzschia that occurs naturally in coastal waters. Blooms of the toxic algae along the California coast typically occur in the spring and fall and last just a few weeks. This year, however, unusual oceanographic conditions (unrelated to El Niño) led to the largest and longest-lasting bloom ever recorded. Continue reading

Fukushima radioactive contamination still increasing off West Coast of U.S.

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Radioactive contamination from the Fukushima disaster lingers in the Pacific Ocean.

Readings still far below official safety limits

Staff Report

Continued monitoring in the Pacific Ocean shows that radioactive contamination from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster is still spreading eastward.

An increased number of sites off the US West Coast are showing signs of contamination, includes the highest detected level to date from a sample collected about 1,600 miles west of San Francisco. Continue reading

Pacific islands face extreme sea level changes

Study tracks El Niño shifts

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How will climate change affect Pacific atolls? Photo via NASA.

Staff Report

Climate change will likely subject many low-lying Pacific island nations to more extreme fluctuations in sea level from year to year, in synch with more intense El Niño cycles. Some years, high sea level will lead to bigger floods, while in other years, big drops in sea level will leave coral reefs exposed, according to researchers based in Hawaii and Australia. Continue reading

USGS report shows how global warming will shift Pacific wind and wave patterns

Study pinpoints impacts to island communities & ecosystems

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How will islands in the Pacific Ocean be affected by global warming?

Staff Report

FRISCO — Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey have developed climate models that help show how global warming will change wind and wave patterns, potentially affecting island communities, especially as sea level rises.

The new USGS report looked at U.S. and U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands, including Hawaii, where climate change is expected to alter the highest waves and strongest winds. The detailed data should help communities develop coastal resilience plans and ecosystem restoration efforts, and to design future coastal infrastructure. Continue reading

Study: Ancient El Niño just as strong as today’s

Archaeologists, ocean scientists team up on detailed study of historic climate cycles in Pacific Ocean

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Study offers new clues to past and future El Niños.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Today’s climate models may not do a very good job of predicting changes in the Pacific Ocean El Niño-La Niña cycle, an international team of  scientists said after studying old seashells that display a distinct history of climate variations.

Understanding how El Niño responds to global warming is significant because the undulating rhythm of warming and cooling waters in the equatorial Pacific is a key driver of weather patterns around the world. Some modeling studies have suggested that ancient El Niños may have been weaker than today’s but the new research suggests they were as strong and as frequent as they are now, at least going back about 10,000 years. Continue reading

Morning photo: Waves

Seashore thrills …

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A gentle Gulf of Mexico breaker rolls ashore under a setting sun.

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Living in the small side-house to the barn-like fog signal building at Pt. Montara, California gave me a deep appreciation of ocean waves.

FRISCO — In the early 1980s I lived at the Pt. Montara Lighthouse, about 20 miles south of San Francisco. While we renovated the Victorian lighthouse keeper’s quarters, I stayed in the watchroom of the fog signal building, just 10 yards from the edge of a bluff overlooking a rocky headland that juts far into the Pacific. As it turned out, the first winter I lived there was a big El Niño year. Endless storms crashed ashore from November through May, coating my oceanfront window with salt spray and, at times, making the cliffs shake. It’s hard to describe the size and scope of these breakers, but if you’ve seen the movie “Chasing Mavericks,” it’ll give you an idea of the 30- to 40-foot walls of water that were commonplace that year. I already was a big fan of waves before that, but the experience gave me a whole new appreciation for the power of the sea. I don’t have any digital images of that winter, but I probably do have some old slides tucked away in a shoebox. I was tempted to try and find them, but I’ll save that for another time. Continue reading

Climate: For El Niño, timing is everything

Study identifies wind patterns that could lead to better El Niño forecasts

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El Niño affects global weather patterns.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Climate researcher say they’ve discovered an atmospheric pattern that helps explain why El Niño often peaks during the first part of winter and usually fades away in late winter and early spring.

El Niño phases are part of a cycle when sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean are warmer than average. The various phases of the so-called ENSO can have pronounced impacts on weather around the globe, spurring droughts in some areas and flooding in others.

The new study from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa Meteorology Department and International Pacific Research Center identified an unusual wind pattern that straddles the equatorial Pacific during strong El Niño events and swings back and forth with a period of 15 months as a key driver in the annual cycle. The findings were reported in the May 26 online issue of Nature Geoscience. Continue reading

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