NEWS

Record North Pacific temperatures threatening B.C. marine species

11/22/2014 12:11 EST | Updated 01/21/2015 05:59 EST
The North Pacific Ocean is setting record high temperatures this year fuelling global warming and raising concerns over the potential impact on cold water marine species like salmon along the B.C. coast.

Scientists say this year, ocean surface temperatures around the world reached the highest temperature ever recorded, due in large part to the normally chilly North Pacific which has warmed three to four degrees above average — far beyond any recorded value.

As a result warm water has spread along the North Pacific coast releasing enormous amounts of heat into the atmosphere that had been locked up in the western tropical Pacific for nearly a decade shifting hurricane tracks, and weakening trade winds.

​The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Bill Peterson says it's very unusual.

"We've never seen this before. It's beyond anyone's experience and this is why it's puzzling," he said.

To further complicate the picture, Peterson says an El Nino warm water ocean current is on the way and should arrive in about a month.

"We'll have what we call a double whammy. It's already very warm up north, up here. If we get an extra push of super warm water from the tropics, we could possibly have a big disaster on our hands, ecologically speaking."

Invasive species on the rise

Dr. Richard Dewey helps run the worlds most advanced ocean observing network, out of Victoria. He says scientists are still trying to figure out what's going on.

"We've seen a relatively calm winter last year that didn't mix up the cold water so the Pacific was already a bit warmer."

Unusual and invasive species have already started showing up, from sunfish found off the top of the Alaska panhandle to Thresher sharks and predatory species like the Humboldt squid that voraciously eat juvenile salmon.

"So the worries with this," says Dewey, "is our local species having to work harder. They're competing for the food they're after."

For now scientists continue to monitor the rising North Pacific temperatures, and warn that salmon and other northern marine species aren't the only potential victims.

As the oceans warm up, we'll all feel the heat.

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