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The Big Dry
Orignally reported in this Hub on August 19, 2015 -- it seems that much more information is surfacing...
California is still suffering from one of the worst droughts in its history. There is now a potential that the state will enter yet another year of drier than expected conditions. The state government climatologist(s) are warning that there is only a 50/50 chance of a wetter winter and the much needed build up of the snow-pack. If El Nino will do it's duty.
The state has announced rebates to its residents for removing their lawns and replacing their inefficient toilets. There are continuing efforts to better use reclaimed or recycled water for irrigation, but not human consumption. What's more, the state has basically instituted a civilian "water police" agency where the average person can report those suspected of wasting water. The system is used to report suspected leaks as well. But these are just of few of the measures California has implemented to conserve its precious water. Will it matter?
Will El Nino bring much needed rain to California by July of 2016?
- 60% Yes
- 40% No
This poll is now closed to voting.
The Record Books
- Boston, MA - 110.6 Inches of Snow
- Eastport, ME – 132.5 Inches of Snow
- Bangor, ME – 139 inches
The Big Wet
Travel east now. Where water was not an issue at all. In fact, it's much wetter than usual.
Reported February 1, 2015. Detroit hit with almost 17 inches of snow. That's 'number three' in the record books. In Plymouth, Indiana almost 20 inches of snow falls. Chicago, 19 inches of snow.
This wet pattern also moved into the southeastern states causing wetter conditions and more snow.
According to Weather Channel Historian Chris Burt, this past season was 16th coldest on record. In fact, for parts of the "Lower Great Lakes and New England" 100 year old records were also broken. Bitter cold and total snowfall in the Midwest were contrasted with unseasonably warm and drier conditions in the west. Why?
Another season of wet weather, especially in Colorado, is expected. More great skiing for 2016?
It's the "BLOB" in the Pacific Ocean?
Dr. Nicholas Bond of the University of Washington described the "Blob" recently. The weather pattern appeared during the winter of 2013/2014. The unusually warm water and weather, is sitting approximately 500 miles off of the west coast of the United States from Alaska; and extends as far as Baja California, Mexico. It is expected to be an issue into 2016.
Just what is the "Blob" doing? It is driving the polar jet stream into Canada then making it dip into the Midwestern areas of the United States. This is what some climatologists say.
What happens as a result of the polar jet stream changing course? Droughts in some areas and too much snowfall in other areas. It is believed that California's current dry spell is the result of the new polar jet stream's direction. It is also thought that the new and heavy snow-pack in the Midwest was caused by the "Blob" or how it pushed the polar jet stream off course.
Of course those from California are hoping that El Nino, a wetter weather pattern, overtakes the "Blob" and brings much needed rain. But the jury is still out. If the larger than predicted El Nino comes to the west coast, the next question is how will it interact with the "Blob"? Climatologists are uncertain if the interaction of these two systems will magnify the El Nino or simply cancel the "Blob" and result in both systems fizzling.
According to Climatologist Bill Patzert of NASA, El Nino or "Godzilla" as it has been called, "...could be the El Nino of our Generation." Or not?
The Record Algae Bloom
Aside from the odd weather patterns blamed on the "blob" there is the marine life issue. There are apparently toxic phytoplankton threatening sea life in general, all thanks to the warm waters.
The toxin in question is called domoic acid, produced by the phytoplankton group of Pseudo-nitzschia. These toxins are responsible for the recent problems with the clam harvests in Washington and Oregon. The Crab Industry is also under the gun in Washington. Fisheries in California are experiencing negative consequences as well.
- Water two to seven degrees higher than normal (Fahrenheit)
- "BLOB" is about 1000 miles around
- Warmth to 300 feet below surface of ocean
Origins of the "Blob"
That is the million dollar question.
The "blob" of warm water off the west coast is about two to seven degrees warmer than normal. From 2013 to 2014, the "blob" actually became warmer.
The area that the "blob" covers is about 1,000 miles in all directions, but what is more telling is the depth of the temperature. The warmer than usual water is at least 300 feet deep in places.
Some scientists have theorized that the pattern of warmer weather was caused by other weather patterns not allowing the water "blob" to cool off as it would normally. This is educated guessing, however. Just one hypothesis.
According to Station KUOW.ORG (94.9 FM, Seattle News and Information) help is needed. Scientists want you to volunteer computer time so they can run simulations. If you are interested go to www.climateprediction.net.
But what if it has nothing to do with weather at all?
One wonders how water is heated, of course, and that leads to the idea of undersea volcanoes. It is interesting that many of the reports about the "blob" never answer that question. They never even ask it. Why?
So how does water become warm? Solar energy is one way. The sun warms the sea, but the sun's energy is rather steady. It does not seem to explain how one part of the larger ocean became warmer.
Shifting weather patterns? Could the movement of different storms, high pressure systems, or even low pressure areas, cause long term and local warming of one section of the larger ocean?
What else warms the ocean? Marine life? Ocean salinity? Volcanoes?
In the area of the "blob" there is, in fact, regular undersea volcanic activity. Recently, as if to seem obvious, but it may only be a contributing factor, geologists have been investigating. If they can determine this undersea vulcanism causes the ocean to warm, thereby creating the "blob", which in turn changes the weather, many questions will be answered. More questions will arise, however. Such questions as: can we predict the undersea volcanic activity with any accuracy and thereby better plan for droughts and wetter weather on land?
But the questions of cause must be nailed down first. A near stationary warm phenomena would seem the require a fixed "heater". Volcanoes do not move very fast in real time. Geologically, volcanoes, like the Yellowstone Magma Dome, move over millions of years, but we are more concerned about the next few years and if California will become wetter soon.
The suspect system is called the Axial Seamount (depicted). It is located about 300 miles off of the coast of Oregon and Washington, in the Pacific Ocean. According to geologists Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University and Scott Nooner of the University of North Carolina, the [Axial] "volcano inflates and deflates like a balloon" in a pattern. Magma is fed into the seamount during this cycle of rising and falling. It's like Yellowstone, but under the ocean.
If magma is being naturally pumped into the sea bed or seamount, would it not function as a kind of undersea stove top then?
The Axial Volcano is about 3,600 feet tall and was shaking on April 24, 2015.
On July 28, 2015, a seven hour robotic dive was conducted into a "blizzard of white material" created by organic matter, microbial life forms, which live near volcanic areas under the sea. This is more evidence of heating. The surrounding waters, near the volcano, were as warm as 64 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Deborah Kelley, a professor at the University of Washington. Usually, these waters would be near freezing.
On August 14, 2015, Geologist Bill Chadwick from Oregon State University and his team, were to head back out to the area in question in a bid to explore the eruption site near the Axial Seamount. Maybe in the near future Chadwick's revelations will help clarify the source of the "blob" and reinforce to everyone just how precarious weather patterns can become in a few short years.
If Chadwick determines that the volcano at Axial will continue its eruptions for some time, what will that mean for California? The New Dust Bowl?
Your Opinion Now...?
What is causing the "BLOB"?
...and the drought continues...
Background on Axial
Recent Video of Axial Seamount area of Pacific
How did you like this story?
- Brunhuber, Kim, "'Biggest El Nino of our generation' may be tempered by The Blob" CBCNEWS Technolgy & Science, August 19, 2015
- Cokting, Rodrigo, "The weird ocean blob is linked to our worst weather. Here's How", The Weather Network, April 15, 2015
- "Calfornia State Climatologist: Do Not Count on El Nino to End Drought", Ca.gov/drought/, August 13, 2015
- Erbentraut, Jospeh, "Midwest Smacked By Historic Snowfall, Basically Shrugs It Off", The Huffington Post, February 2, 2015
- "Winter Weather 2014-2015 Recap", www.weather.com, May 22, 2015
- Depra, Dianne, "Scientists Pinpoint Strange 'Blob' Of Warm Water As Culprit Behind Weird Weather", Tech Times, April 11, 2015
- Yulsman, Tom, "Record Algae Bloom Laced With Toxins is Flourishing in "The Blob" – and Spreading in the North Pacific, Discover Magazine, August 6, 2015
- Yandel, Jeannie, "Weather Scientists Want Your Help To Understand 'The Blob'", KUOW.ORG, August 12, 2015
- Oregon State University, "Undersea Volcano: Axial Seamount off Northwest coast is erupting", Science News, May 4, 2015
- Hickey, Hannah, "UW Scientists explore recently erupted deep-sea volcano (with video)", UW Today, August 7, 2015
- Oregon Coast Aquarium Oceanscape Network, "The 2015 Eruption", http://oceanscape.aquarium.org/explore/general_articles/the-2015-eruption , August 16, 2015
Other Reading / Resources
- Schmidt Ocean Institute - New Deep-Sea Vents and Volcanic Activity Discovered in the Mariana Back-Arc (http://www.schmidtocean.org)
- Axial Seamount (http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/eoi/axial_site.html)
The Blob That Cooked the Pacific http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/09/warm-water-pacific-coast-algae-nino/