Seafloor Samples Reveal Ghosts Of Blobs Past

Nov 27, 2015

A huge mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean is causing problems off the coast of Oregon and Washington. The so-called “blob” is being blamed for toxic algae blooms, which have caused marine mammal deaths and crabbing closures. New evidence shows this isn’t the first time the blob has appeared off the Northwest coast.

This is a California sea lion on Long Beach, Washington, apparently experiencing seizures from domoic acid poisoning in May 2015.
Credit Dan Ayres / Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Oregon State University scientists collected core samples off the coast of Alaska that revealed two different blobs in the past 15-thousand years – both formed during a time of rapid climate warming.

Co-author Alan Mix says these past blobs stuck around for quite a while.

Alan Mix: “They last on the order of a thousand years, or a few thousand years. And we’re seeing that they change the whole ecosystem of a region.”

The research shows a link between the blobs and marine dead zones in the North Pacific.

Mix says there are similarities between the past blobs and what’s happening now. Understanding how they’re connected could reveal if the Pacific Northwest blob is a short-term visitor, or if it’s here to stay.