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The Blob, Hangover Edition: Lingering Pool Of Warm Ocean Water Messing With Us

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Prediction
This week, the evolving blob of warm seawater is most noticeable in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska along with a band hugging much of the U.S. West Coast.

A vast pool of warmer-than-normal ocean water off of the West Coast continues to mess with our weather and sea life. It's nicknamed "The Blob.”

University of Washington research scientist and Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond coined the name for The Blob when he first noticed it offshore in 2014. It has swelled and waned and shifted around since.

"The Blob is fading, but it is like a New Year's Day hangover that is kind of lingering especially for the marine ecosystem," Bond said. "It is taking its sweet time going away."

The Blob has several important effects. It warms the air that prevailing winds carry our way off the ocean. It also disrupts the ocean food web, which shows up in seabird die offs, harmful algal blooms and starving marine mammals.

What would make this go away? Bond said a sustained weather pattern with storms and cold winds out of the Gulf of Alaska or that general direction.

"That will help cool off the water column and there are some indications that that is going to happen," Bond said. "But because so much of the ocean is quite a bit warmer than normal, it's going to take a while for that to happen."

NOAA measurements show the warming has gradually extended since 2013 from the surface of the northeastern Pacific to about 300 meters (approx. 1,000 feet) of depth. At the sea surface, the contours of The Blob are defined by sea surface temperature departures of about one degree Celsius warmer than average and higher -- about 2?F up to 7 or 8?F higher than normal.

The mass of warm water evolves under the influence of currents and churning of the sea from storms. This week, the yellow, ochre and red hues on a NOAA ocean temperature anomalies monitoring map are most noticeable in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska along with a band hugging much of the U.S. West Coast.

A persistent ridge of high pressure in the winter of 2013-14 gets the blame for creating the relatively calm, sunny ocean conditions and absence of normal water mixing that allowed a blob with an extent of roughly 1,000 miles across to form directly to the west of Oregon and Washington state. That phenomenon also got a nickname: the "ridiculously resilient ridge."

Bond said a short-term marine heat wave like this cannot be linked directly to global warming. But he said it could be indicative of what the future could bring if current climate trends continue.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.