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Newly discovered West Coast arrhythmias cause

es of the year when the birds should be healthiest. And scientists trying to predict salmon runs have recorded large swings in ocean temperatures at a much higher frequency than the past, a change that signals large shifts in the amount of food available for salmon, birds, and marine mammals. Scientists link the low oxygen zones and animal die offs to changes in the timing and strength of upwelling, a usually reliable and regular wind-driven process that brings cold, nutrient rich waters up from the depths of the ocean and fuels productive coastal ecosystems.

"We are investigating the idea that dead crabs and sea stars at the bottom of the ocean are correlated with changes in coastal winds, which are in turn driven by changes in temperatures on land," says Lubchenco.

Around the globe, areas of coastal upwelling which include the waters off the west coasts of the US, Peru, and Chile, eastern New Zealand, southwest and northwest Africa, and the Arabian Sea, are known for their abundant sea life and account for nearly 50% of the world's fisheries landings. Upwelling on the US west coast typically begins during the spring, triggering growth of phytoplankton and fueling marine food webs from the bottom-up. Many marine animals time their breeding and migrations with this influx of nutrients and growth of prey populations. But in recent years, changes in wind patterns and the position of the jet stream have changed the timing and strength of upwelling, disrupting these long-standing patterns.

"These are not just little blips," says oceanographer Jack Barth of Oregon State University. "Winds in both 2005 and 2006 are outside the envelope of what we've seen in the last twenty to forty years. They are the two most anomalous years in the last two decades -- and they are anomalous in opposite directions."

Starving Salmon

In 2005, relaxed winds delayed upwelling of cold water and nutrients by several months, resulting in
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Contact: Jessica Brown
jbrown@seaweb.org
831-331-0507
SeaWeb
16-Feb-2007


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