Fears for endangered orcas as marine heatwave hits northeast Pacific

An ocean heatwave has hit the west coast of North America, threatening to disrupt marine life including salmon, sea lions and endangered orcas.

A marine heatwave is defined as at least five days where seawater temperatures are “extremely high” for the location.

The expanse of unusually warm water in the northeast Pacific Ocean stretches from Alaska to California, researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

It resembles a similar heat wave about five years ago that was blamed for poorer survival rates for young salmon, more humpback whales becoming entangled in fishing gear as they hunted closer to shore, and an algae bloom that shut down crabbing and clamming operations.

“Given the magnitude of what we saw last time, we want to know if this evolves on a similar path,” said Chris Harvey, a research scientist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

NOAA Fisheries said the water has reached temperatures more than 5° Fahrenheit (2.8° Celcius) above average. It remains to be seen whether this heat wave dissipates more quickly than the last one, which occurred in 2014, the agency said.

If it lingers, it could be disastrous for the Pacific Northwest’s endangered orcas, which largely depend on chinook salmon.

Warmer waters can weaken the food web that sustain the salmon and bring predators of young salmon, including seabirds, closer to shore, further reducing their abundance.

Chinook returns have been extremely low in recent years following the last heat wave, which scientists dubbed “the blob.”

The new heat wave has emerged over the last few months, growing in a similar pattern in the same area. After “the blob,” it’s the second-most widespread heat wave in the northern Pacific Ocean in the last 40 years — as far back as the relevant data goes.

“It’s on a trajectory to be as strong as the prior event,” said Andrew Leising, a research scientist at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, who developed a way to use satellite data to track marine heat waves in the Pacific.

Among the causes is a persistent low-pressure weather pattern between Hawaii and Alaska that has weakened winds that otherwise might mix and cool surface waters across much of the North Pacific, said Nathan Mantua, a NOAA research scientist.

The last marine heatwave to hit the region was in 2014. NOAA
The last marine heatwave to hit the region was in 2014. NOAA

What’s causing that, he said, is unclear: It might simply reflect the normal chaotic motion of the atmosphere, or it might be related to the warming of the oceans and other effects of human-made climate change.

The agency said it will provide fisheries managers with information on how the unusually warm conditions could affect the marine ecosystem and fish stocks.

The last heat wave spanned 2014 and 2015 and resulted in several declared fisheries disasters.

Among the other effects, thousands of young sea lions were stranded on beaches after their mothers were forced to forage further from their rookeries in the Channel Islands off Southern California.

In March, scientists revealed an alarming increase in the frequency of marine heatwaves. The first global analysis to measure the impact of temperature spikes in the ocean found that they had already damaged ecosystems across the world and were likely to become even more destructive, with “devastating consequences for human health, economies and the environment”.

The number of marine heatwave days has increased by more than 50 per cent since the mid-20th century.

Greece Briefly Shuts The Acropolis As Over Heatwave In Athens

ATHENS: Greece shut the Acropolis Hill for a few hours on Thursday to protect visitors to one of the world's most popular tourist attractions from a heatwave that has engulfed Athens.

The monument, home to the Parthenon temple that is visited by millions of tourists every year, was closed between 1000 and 1400 GMT on Thursday, authorities said.

Greece's meteorological service had forecast temperatures peaking at 38 Celsius in Athens by midday, though the temperature on the Acropolis hill which overlooks the city is always higher due to its altitude and a lack of shade.

"The meteorological service had forecast that the temparature felt on the hill would be forbidding, more than 44 degrees Celsius," said a spokeswoman for the Acropolis complex.

It is the first time that hot weather has shut down the Acropolis this summer, though it also happened last year.

Greece saw record tourist arrivals in 2018 of 33 million people and expects a similar number this year.

  • Published in Culture

Continental Europe braced for 'potentially dangerous' heatwave

High pressure pulling hot air northward from Africa will send temperatures soaring

A potentially record-breaking heatwave is forecast to grip much of continental Europe next week, with temperatures in cities from Spain to Germany expected to exceed 32C and climb to more than 38C or even 40C in the hottest areas.

The combination of a storm stalled over the Atlantic and high pressure over central Europe would pull very hot air from Africa northward, leading to a “potentially dangerous heatwave over a large portion of western and central Europe”, forecaster AccuWeather said.

In France, temperatures of between 35C and 40C were expected across most of the country except Brittany from Monday, Météo-France said, and were unlikely to fall below 20C overnight.

“Even though it will be shortlived, this heatwave could be remarkable for its momentum and intensity,” the forecaster said in a bulletin.

France’s health minister, Agnès Buzyn, warned local authorities, hospitals and retirement homes to be on high alert, noting that last summer’s heatwave resulted in 1,500 more deaths than normal in July and August.

Meteorologists in Germany said there was a 50% chance of temperatures hitting 40C, possibly breaking the national record of 40.3C set in Bavaria in 2015.

AccuWeather said cities from Madrid to Berlin, including Paris, Brussels and Frankfurt, were likely to experience a “multi-day heatwave” in the first half of the week, with similar temperatures of 32C or above expected further east later in Bucharest, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade and Sofia.

“Multiple days of extreme heat combined with warm nights will not allow buildings and homes without air conditioning to cool off, creating uncomfortable sleeping conditions and also raising the risk of heat-related illnesses,” the forecaster’s senior meteorologist, Eric Leister, said.

“The elderly and children are most at risk from such ailments, and outdoor exposure should be limited during the hottest times of the day to reduce the risk of illness.”

Long-range weather forecasts show summer temperatures throughout July and August are expected to be higher than normal, rivalling those of 2018, which according to the European Environment Agency was one of the three warmest years on record on the continent.

Scientists have said last year’s heatwave, which led to increased mortality rates, a dramatic decline in crop yields, the shutdown of nuclear power plants and wildfires inside the Arctic Circle, was linked to the climate emergency and that extreme climate events are likely to be regular occurrences in the coming decades.

  • Published in World
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