Something odd is happening in Northern Pacific waters: They’re heating up. In fact, it hasn’t been this warm in parts of the Gulf of Alaska for this long since researchers began tracking surface water temperatures in the 1980s, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The warming began last year in the Gulf of Alaska and has since beendubbed “The Blob” by Nick Bond, of the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean. Temperatures have been as high as about 5 degrees Fahrenheit (3 Celsius) above average.
Normally storms and winds roll through to cool off the surface of the Northern Pacific, but a weather pattern popped up for a few months in winter 2013 that inhibited those storms from developing, said Nate Mantua, a NOAA research scientist. Then, from October 2013 through January, the weather pattern came back as a ridge of high pressure (the same one connected to the California drought). All of that made the already warm waters in the Alaskan gulf even warmer, a layer about 100 meters thick, Mantua said.
In the spring, warm water started to develop in other Northern Pacific waters, namely the Bering Sea. There’s also a chunk of warm water developing off the coast of California.
“You have lots of warm water, and it’s due to weather patterns that basically don’t take heat out of the ocean,” Mantua said. “They are letting the ocean warm up rapidly, and stay warm.”
The change in surface water temperature doesn’t appear to be a manifestation of global warming, but rather the result of weather and wind patterns that change quickly and vary year to year, Mantua said.
And now, strange fish are showing up. In the past year, there have been “unusual fish occurrences” in Alaskan waters, according to NOAA research biologist Joe Orsi, such as the skipjack tuna in the photo above. The last documented skipjack tuna in Alaska was in the 1980s.
In August, a thresher shark was caught in the Gulf of Alaska, Orsi noted. Those sharks are more typical off the coasts of British Columbia and Baja California. Two other threshers were spotted in the past four years in the more southern waters of the Alaskan gulf.
An ocean sunfish, the world’s largest bony fish, has been spotted on the surface of the Prince William Sound off Alaskan shores, Orsi said. Further south, a 7-foot-long ocean sunfish washed up on the shore in Washington state in August.
Scientists are not convinced of the exact cause of the ‘warm up’, more studies will have to be made and only time will tell.