Researchers monitor the latest sea surface temperature anomaly in the northeast pacific, this is a recent image of warm ocean water in the past month. (Data/image provided by the NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD, Boulder, Colorado, USA, from their Web site at http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/)

Researchers monitor the latest sea surface temperature anomaly in the northeast pacific, this is a recent image of warm ocean water in the past month. (Data/image provided by the NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD, Boulder, Colorado, USA, from their Web site at http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/)

Researchers on state of B.C. salmon in warm water blob

DFO and Ocean Networks Canada on above average temperatures in the northeast Pacific

An anomaly or the new norm, researchers are carefully tracking the persistent warm water blob in the northeast Pacific Ocean and what it means for salmon.

In the last two months, a high pressure ridge that developed over B.C.’s coastal area resulted in an extended warm summer. The storm season was late, and the water is two to three degrees warmer.

Richard Dewey, associate director of science at Ocean Networks Canada, and the University of Victoria, has been carefully tracking the approximately 2,000-kilometre unseasonably warm area that made its first appearance in fall of 2013 and became much more noticeable in spring of 2014 — when researchers coined the term “the blob”.

“That event woke us up to what is happening here. The atmosphere, storm and jet streams come together and we get weaker winds over the gulf and therefore we don’t mix up the cold water and things remain warm,” Dewey said.

Now they’re paying attention. By 2017, oceanographers were starting to see the warm mass dissipate at depth, but this year it’s back in the northeast Pacific and in the Bering Sea.

“Maybe this is the trend. Maybe this is how climate change is going to reflect itself in our backyard, but we don’t quite know that yet,” Dewey said.

Ocean Networks Canada has instruments along the bottom and near the shore of the ocean. They didn’t pick up the 2014 blob on their sensor until months later, so researchers are keeping a close eye on satellite data and sea surface temperature maps for the Gulf of Alaska.

READ MORE: Ocean “Blob” returns to North Coast of B.C.

Impacts on salmon

Ocean warming is affecting fresh water temperatures as well.

Sue Grant is leading Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) State of the Salmon Program. Her role is to integrate what we know about salmon and their ecosystems. Oceanographers and fresh water researchers are seeing a co-relation between the blob and the warming in rivers and streams.

“The blob itself is an oceanographic phenomenon but it’s caused by a coupling with the atmosphere and that also has repercussions in fresh water,” Grant said.

Salmon are anadromous, with fresh water and marine life stages, and they’re experiencing warmer temperatures in both habitats. Grant said the effects of the 2014 and 2015 warm blob vary across the salmon stocks in B.C. and Yukon territory.

“Responses are mixed, although some of our southern stocks and some of our northern ones weren’t doing so well this year. We were seeing lower than average survivals in salmon stocks in the Fraser Watershed last year across the different species and we were seeing below average survivals again this year in the Fraser. There are other examples up north,” she said.

Grant uses a marathon analogy to describe what the 3-5 degree Celsius above-season temperatures are doing to salmon.

If she were to run a marathon in 50 degrees Celsius she may not survive because 50-60 degrees Celsius is outside her optimal temperature range. Salmon have an optimal temperature range as well, and when they’re trying to migrate upstream during the summer run it can have a negative affect on their migration.

Warmer-than-average water temperatures are also impacting the level of nutrients.

When the ecosystem shifted in 2014-2015, the surface layer of the Gulf of Alaska was weaker in nutrients. Ocean Networks Canada saw that cold-water species requiring a nutrient-rich environment weren’t as prevalent, while warm-water species that could adapt to low-nutrient conditions tended to dominate.

“When the salmon are out there in the gulf and along the coast feeding under those conditions they came back in 2016-17, a little smaller than usual,” Dewey said.

“The numbers I have seen say these warm conditions can result in smaller fish sizes so that has some impact as well.”

Both Grant and Dewey say they’re paying attention but it’s far too early to make projections and what the 2018 warm blob means for salmon.

They can, however, take the data from the past few years — salmon responses to the warming in fresh water and marine ecosystems — and watch to see if there’s a pattern and what that could mean for the future of salmon stocks.

RELATED: DFO contemplating sweeping North Coast salmon fishery closure



shannon.lough@thenorthernview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Volunteer Robbie McKnight works the screening table at the Coast Mountain College COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Smithers. (Deb Meissner photo)
Smithers clinic expands vaccine eligibility to ages 60+

Community members born in 1961 or earlier can now call for an appointment at 1-844-255-7555

Styrofoam burning at the Woodmere Tree Nursery in Telka created billowing black smoke over Tyhee Lake and resulted in air quality advisory for Bulkley Valley. (Contributed photo)
VIDEO: Telkwa styrofoam fire air quality advisory lifted

A woodpile fire at Woodmere Tree Nursery spread to styrofoam blocks causing air quality concerns

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

The new 3,500 hectare conservancy in Tahltan territory is located next to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (BC Parks Photo)
New conservancy protects sacred Tahltan land near Mount Edziza Provincial Park

Project is a collaboration between Skeena Resources, conservation groups and the TCG

The Smithers Local Health Area reported just six new cases of COVID-19 for the week of March 21 - 27. (BC CDC graphic)
Weekly COVID cases decline in Smithers and Northwest

Smithers community members born in 1951 or before (70 years old) now eligible for vaccination

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Most Read