The event appears similar to one in 2002, when an area of ocean water with low oxygen content formed in the nearshore Oregon coast between Newport and Florence, causing a massive die-off of fish and invertebrate marine species. The fact that it's happening again is triggering concern among marine scientists.
In 2002, the dead zone appeared to be a one-time anomaly, an odd combination of climate, winds and upwelling patterns that led to a hypoxic event a situation in which the oxygen level was so low it could not support most marine life which had not been seen in the region's recent history.
But continued research has shown that the same thing almost occurred last year and is now happening in full force again this year. Dissolved oxygen levels are a great deal lower than those seen in the past 40 years. This is a disturbing trend with an unknown cause that scientists now say may reflect a major change in ocean circulation patterns, with serious impacts on marine biology.
"When you see the same thing happening with this regularity, it suggests that something is fundamentally different," said Jane Lubchenco, the Valley Professor of Marine Biology at Oregon State University. "This is a significant departure from normal conditions and you have to wonder what's going on. This ocean system has changed, and we're paying attention."
The issue is sufficiently important that OSU scientists from the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans and the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences have joined forces in intensive research with experts from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Contact: Jane Lubchenco
Oregon State University