Pacific Coast Dead Zones Linked to Global Warming

In the latest bad news related to human-induced climate change, scientists last week reported bottom fish and crabs washing up dead on Oregon beaches are the latest victims of global warming, which is reportedly causing oxygen-deprived “dead zones” along a 70-mile stretch of Oregon’s Pacific coast. Marine ecologists attribute these dead zones to increasingly explosive blooms of tiny plants called phytoplankton that die and sink to the ocean floor, where they are then eaten by bacteria that consume the oxygen in the water column. The recurring phytoplankton blooms, which scientists first noticed off the coast of Oregon in 2002, are caused by increasingly strong north winds—a symptom of climate change—that result in massive cyclical upwellings of sea water.

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“We are seeing wild swings from year to year in the timing and duration of the winds that are favorable for upwelling,” says Jane Lubchenco, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University. “This increased variability in the winds is consistent with what we would expect under climate change.”

Unlike localized dead zones that are attributed to agricultural run-off and other forms of pollution in Washington State’s Hood Canal and Louisiana’s Mississippi River Delta, the coastal Oregon dead zones mirror similar circumstances witnessed recently off the coasts of Namibia and South Africa in the Atlantic and Peru in the Pacific. These cases join the litany of evidence pointing to the increased environmental impact of climate change across the globe.