A fundamental new trend in atmospheric and ocean circulation patterns in the Pacific Northwest appears to have begun, scientists say, and apparently is expanding its scope beyond Oregon waters.
This year for the first time, the effect of the low-oxygen zone is also being seen in coastal waters off Washington, researchers at OSU and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary indicate.
There have been reports of dead crabs stretching from the central Oregon coast to the central Washington coast. Some dissolved oxygen levels at 180 feet have recently been measured as low as 0.55 milliliters per liter, and areas as shallow as 45 feet have been measured at 1 milliliter per liter.
These oxygen levels are several times lower than normal, and any dissolved oxygen level below 1.4 milliliters per liter is hypoxic, capable of suffocating a wide range of fish, crabs, and other marine life.
"There is a huge pool of low-oxygen water off the central Oregon coast with values as low as 0.46 milliliters per liter," said Francis Chan, marine ecologist in the OSU Department of Zoology and with the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO), a marine research consortium at OSU and other universities along the West Coast.
"OSU researchers have documented this year's region of low-oxygen bottom waters from Florence to Cascade Head," Chan said. "The lack of consistent upwelling winds allowed a low-oxygen pool of deep water to build up. Now that the upwelling-favorable winds are blowing consistently, we're seeing that pool of water come close to shore and begin to suffocate marine life. If these winds continue to blow, we expect to see continued and possibly significant die-offs."