Nick Bond, a climate scientist at the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean of the University of Washington and lead author of a new study, states that “in the fall of 2013 and early 2014 we started to notice a big, almost circular mass of water that just didn’t cool off as much as it usually did, so by spring of 2014 it was warmer than we had ever seen it for that time of year.”
Bond works as Washington state’s climatologist, and he used the term “blob” for the first time in his monthly newsletter last June. Blob refers to a large mass of water that is 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) in each direction and 300 feet (91 meters) deep and extends offshore from Mexico up through Alaska. The water’s temperature is about 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) more than normal, and based on all climate models, it will continue to be until the end of this year.
As the blob is situated off of U.S. shores, the implications for the marine ecosystem and weather are already visible. West Coast marine life is suffering because warm water contains fewer nutrients, so sea lions, fish, and many other species of marine life have to go deeper into the ocean to find food, causing disruptions to the food chain. Anomalies in weather patterns affect the inland climate as well. According to Bond’s study, recent drought conditions in California, Oregon, and Washington are due to this blob and not to global warming.
Bond and his team have tried to find out the blob’s origins. According to their new study, a high-pressure ridge could be the cause of the blob by trapping heat in the water resulting in a calmer ocean during the past two winters, so less heat has been lost to the cold air above. The warmer temperatures we see now aren’t due to more heating, but less winter cooling.
On the other hand, this warm blob seems to have had an effect on the East Coast as well. Dennis Hartmann, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, conducted a study which led to the “North Pacific Mode.” According to this pattern, the warm water in the Pacific caused cold, wet air in central and eastern areas of the U.S., ultimately leading to more snowfall and colder temperatures over the past two winters. Hartmann highlights the importance of this weather pattern.
“Lately this mode seems to have emerged as second to the El Niño Southern Oscillation in terms of driving the long-term variability, especially over North America,” he said.
In a blog post last month, he points out that the primary cause of the recent freezing winter in the East were low surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific.
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