The Blob — Brewing up Neurotoxins

Headlines all over this week about the warming ocean and the postponement of west coast crab season. A toxin in algae –domoic acid– has grown so fast, and deep that traces are being found in crab, shellfish, sardines and anchovies — and the critters that eat them, including humans.

The poisonous algae, multiplying since April, is now estimated to be 40 miles wide, in some places reaching down as far as two football fields, marine biologists say. It is the biggest and most toxic bloom researchers have ever seen.  SF Chronicle

As the NY Times put it the Pacific Ocean has become a caldron.  A 4 to 6 degree rise in seawater temperatures in large areas, some have dubbed “the blob,’ is having effects not seen in human history.

“The Blob” has been associated, among other effects, with the unusually dry and warm weather in the western United States. Out in the ocean, the nutrient-poor warmer waters of the Blob — about four degrees Fahrenheit higher than average — are disrupting the food web of marine life. Some species of fish are showing up where they are not expected, including tropical sunfish off the Alaska coast, and an unusual number of emaciated sea lion pups and Guadalupe fur seals are being found stranded on California shores.

Climate The Blob

Of course the Atlantic ocean has problems as well — and much the same. The cod populations off the coast of Maine are in serious decline — because of rising ocean temperatures.

Cod populations off New England are collapsing because waters [temperatures] of the Gulf of Maine have been rising 99 percent faster than anywhere else in the world since 2004, researchers say. Earthweek and National Geographic.

We could also go to the Indian Ocean / Gulf of Aden, where Tropical Cyclone Chapala hit Yemen, dumping ten years worth of rain during its passage, and bringing a storm surge into the coastal city, Mukalla, laying waste to large parts of the waterfront. First time in recorded history such a storm has landed here.  Earthweek.


Thousands of Miles of Toxic Algae Bloom

Climate NOAAView_chloro_july2015_610

“A record-breaking algal bloom continues to expand across the North Pacific reaching as far north as the Aleutian Islands and as far south as southern California.  Coinciding with well above average sea surface temperatures across the North Pacific and West Coast of North America, the bloom is laced with some toxic species that have had far-reaching consequences for sea life and regional and local economies.

  • At least 9 Fin whales were found dead near Kodiak Island, AK, in June, potentially related to the algal bloom…
  • In July, the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association received reports of dead and dying whales, gulls, and forage fish in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands…
  • Eextremely high levels of an algal toxin called domoic acid have led to closures of recreational razor clam harvests in Oregon and Washington, as well as closing of large portions of the Washington state Dungeness crab fishery and some of the sardine and anchovy fisheries in California.

NOAA Climate dot gov

From Scientific American, earlier in August:

Although domoic acid, produced by marine diatoms of the genus Pseudo-nitzschia, is a naturally occurring toxin, during a toxic algal bloom, it accumulates at dangerous levels in shellfish and small fish like sardines and anchovies, which are then eaten by larger marine creatures and humans. Contaminated seafood can cause nausea and vomiting in people. At high levels, the toxin can cause brain damage, memory loss and even death.

Hot, Hotter, Not Yet Hottest

CNN reports on NOAA measurments:

July saw the highest average temperatures since record-keeping began — globally, not just in the United States — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Thursday.

Globally, the first seven months of the year also had all-time highs. The latest global temperature data make it likely that 2015 will be the hottest year on record, the agency said.

NOAA’s findings follow reports by NASA and the Japan Meteorological Agency, which reached the same conclusion using their own data.


At the same time as CO2 is increasing in the atmosphere, so are methane emissions, as long submerged biological matter on seafloors begins to change.

Climate Change Gulf Stream

Methane eruptions from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean appear to be primarily caused by rising ocean heat that is carried by the Gulf Stream into the Arctic Ocean.

AND, methane leaks in human built natural pipelines are now known to be higher than formerly thought.

A little-noted portion of the chain of pipelines and equipment that brings natural gas from the field into power plants and homes is responsible for a surprising amount of methane emissions, according to a study published on Tuesday.

Natural-gas gathering facilities, which collect from multiple wells, lose about 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year, about eight times as much as estimates used

For a couple of short, scary videos on methane, try these.


The same warming seas have driven lobster populations further north along the Atlantic seaboard, changing the economics and livelihoods in its wake.

The lobster population has crashed to the lowest levels on record in southern New England while climbing to heights never before seen in the cold waters off Maine and other northern reaches — a geographic shift that scientists attribute in large part to the warming of the ocean.

In drought stricken California, the massive unmonitored extraction of ground water has led to land surfaces changing form, buckling and collapsing.

Last year, areas around the Kings County town of Corcoran between Fresno and Bakersfield dropped 13 inches in eight months, according to the data released Wednesday. Arbuckle, in Colusa County north of Sacramento, sank 5 inches in six months, and points along the California Aqueduct, which carries water beside Interstate 5 in the San Joaquin Valley, fell 8 inches in four months.

Irrigation canals have begun to buckle, wells have fractured and even streets are cracking. State and federal officials fear that railroad lines and home foundations may be next. [SFC]


In the Middle East severe weather is trumping fear of jihadists as Thomas Friedman points out.

On July 31, USA Today reported that in Bandar Mahshahr, Iran, a city adjacent to the Persian Gulf, the heat index soared to 163 degrees “as a heat wave continued to bake the Middle East, already one of the hottest places on earth. ‘That was one of the most incredible temperature observations I have ever seen, and it is one of the most extreme readings ever in the world,’ AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani said in a statement.

The temperatures are so high in Baghdad, and the electricity for cooling off so irregular that major demonstrations are taking place.


A large group of Muslim scholars recently joined Pope Francis and other religious leaders (and here) in calling for faster action in dealing with the rising temperatures, increasing extreme weather events and the human cost.

The Islamic community became the latest to reaffirm a duty of stewardship on Tuesday, when prominent Muslims from 20 countries urged all 1.6 billion followers of the Prophet Muhammad to “set in motion a new model of well-being.”

In the 8-page declaration, signed at a gathering in Istanbul, Turkey, religious leaders including the Grand Muftis of Lebanon and Uganda issued an urgent message to madrasses and mosques worldwide.

To avoid “ending life as we know it,” they called for “a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels,” which scientists blame for global warming. They also urged a swift transition to “100% renewable energy” by mid-century.

Seabird Populations Diving

They’re not canaries but their deaths may be signalling high danger.

Climate Diving Birds

Writing in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers from the University of British Columbia say that there has been a 70 percent drop in the populations of seabirds around the world over the past 60 years, equivalent to the loss of about 230 million birds.pollution.  Climate change, entanglement in fishing gear and the overfishing of species the birds rely on to eat are among the most important factors behind the sharp decline.

See Earthweek and PLOS One for more….

Ocean Plastics Still a Scourge

California Congressmen Mike Honda and Sam Farr, hosted a tech-event in Washington D.C. the other day hoping to get some push behind the growing plastics-in-the-oceans problem.  Everything from throw away plastic medical supplies to six-pack beer rings contribute to wildlife death and ecosystem disruption every year.  More plastics have been generated in the last twenty years than in the entire century that proceeded it. The Honda/Farr event was designed to showcase alternative solutions to those embedded in plastics.

Rob Chase, founder of NewGen Surgical in San Rafael, is designing products made from the waste of sugar-cane harvests for hospital emergency rooms, where disposable plastic medical devices are the norm

Kevin L’Heureux, president of Fishbone Packaging in Santa Clarita (Los Angeles County), showed a photo of a turtle whose girth was squeezed to the size of a soda can by the plastic six-pack ring that had ensnared it when young. He has designed a paper six-pack holder that can break down in a home composter.

An estimated 8.8 million metric tons of plastic are added to the oceans each year — or about five grocery bags full of plastic litter for every foot of coastline in the world — said University of Georgia environmental engineer Jenna Jambeck

Aug. 11, 2009. Scripps Institution of Oceanography .  A patch of sea garbage at sea in the Pacific Ocean. ( Mario Aguilera/ AP)

Aug. 11, 2009. Scripps Institution of Oceanography . A patch of sea garbage at sea in the Pacific Ocean. ( Mario Aguilera/ AP)


Enormous Ocean Die Off and Hottest Year in Recorded History

Like kids playing with matches in a barn full of hay, we have been warned repeatedly.  But we just can’t quit.  Something about the excitement of risk, perhaps.  Now, again, it comes:

“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science. … humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.

Just a few examples:

Coral reefs, for example, have declined by 40 percent worldwide, partly as a result of climate-change-driven warming.

Some fish are migrating to cooler waters already. Black sea bass, once most common off the coast of Virginia, have moved up to New Jersey. Less fortunate species may not be able to find new ranges. At the same time, carbon emissions are altering the chemistry of seawater, making it more acidic.

“If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy,” Dr. Pinsky said. “In effect, that’s what we’re doing to the oceans.”

Fragile ecosystems like mangroves are being replaced by fish farms, which are projected to provide most of the fish we consume within 20 years.  NY Times

Timeline of Defaunation

Timeline of Defaunation (click for full)

Humans have profoundly decreased the abundance of both large (e.g., whales) and small (e.g., anchovies) marine fauna. Such declines can generate waves of ecological change that travel both up and down ma­rine food webs and can alter ocean ecosystem functioning. Human harvesters have also been a major force of evolutionary change in the oceans and have reshaped the genetic structure of marine animal populations. Climate change threatens to accelerate marine defaunation over the next century.

Says the abstract at Science


And, methane emissions from the well-fed conferees at climate change conferences are adding to the warming problem…

Last year was the hottest in earth’s recorded history, scientists reported on Friday, underscoring scientific warnings about the risks of runaway emissions and undermining claims by climate-change contrarians that global warming had somehow stopped.

Extreme heat blanketed Alaska and much of the western United States last year. Several European countries set temperature records. And the ocean surface was unusually warm virtually everywhere except around Antarctica, the scientists said, providing the energy that fueled damaging Pacific storms.

In the annals of climatology, 2014 now surpasses 2010 as the warmest year in a global temperature record that stretches back to 1880. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1997, a reflection of the relentless planetary warming that scientists say is a consequence of human emissions …  NY Times

Missing Heat Hiding in the Southern Oceans

Those who have done the science know that CO2 drives rising temperatures on earth. They’ve been puzzled, though, about why the predicted rises in the atmosphere have been greater than measurements show.  Those who don’t do, and don’t believe in science, have crowed that the un-met predictions show that a con-job is being run.

Sadly, no.  New findings of water temperature in the remote southern seas show the heat is hiding there.

Research published Sunday concluded that the upper 2,300 feet of the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans may have warmed twice as quickly after 1970 than had previously been thought. Gathering reliable ocean data in the Southern Hemisphere has historically been a challenge, given its remoteness and its relative paucity of commercial shipping, which helps gather ocean data…


“We continue to be stunned at how rapidly the ocean is warming,” said Sarah Gille, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography professor. Gille was not involved with this paper, nor was she involved with a similar one published Sunday that examined the role of ocean warming in rising sea levels. She described both of them as “tremendously interesting” studies.

“Even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today, we’d still have an ocean that is warmer than the ocean of 1950, and that heat commits us to a warmer climate,” Gille said. “Extra heat means extra sea level rise, since warmer water is less dense, so a warmer ocean expands.”

Ocean warming is exacerbating flooding caused by the melting of glaciers and other ice. Seas have risen 8 inches since the industrial revolution, and they continue to rise at a hastening pace, worsening floods and boosting storm surges near shorelines around the world. Another 2 to 7 feet of sea level rise is forecast this century, jeoparizing the homes and neighborhoods of the 5 million Americans who live less than 4 feet above high tide, as well as those of the hundreds of millions living along coastlines in other countries.

Climate Central

The report Nature Climate Change, here

Shellfish — The New Canaries

Like the proverbial canary in the coal mine which, by responding faster to CO buildup underground than humans, and signaling it by death, we have many living indicators of increasingly dangerous conditions around us.  Shellfish are only the latest.

The oceans are more acidic now than they’ve been at any time in the last 300 million years, conditions that marine scientists warn could lead to a mass extinction of key species.

Scientists from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) published their State of the Oceans report Thursday, a biennial study that surveys how oceans are responding to human impacts. The researchers found the current level of acidification is “unprecedented” and that the overall health of the ocean is declining at a much faster rate than previously thought.

“We are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change, and exposing organisms to intolerable evolutionary pressure,” the report states. “The next mass extinction may have already begun.”

Current conditions in the oceans were similar to those 55 million years ago, known as the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum, that led to wide extinctions. And the current pace of change was much faster and meant greater stresses…

 Press release from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) here, as well as PDFs of the report.


Flooded Out

Two articles of interest today re coastal sea-rise. Well, actually, re the cost of pretending it isn’t happening — including the cost to those who live nowhere near the sea.


Homeowners in storm-damaged coastal areas who had flood insurance — and many more who did not, but will now be required to — will face premium increases of as much as 20 percent or 25 percent per year beginning in January, under legislation enacted in July to shore up the debt-ridden National Flood Insurance Program. The yearly increases will add hundreds, even thousands, of dollars to homeowners’ annual bills.

The higher premiums, coupled with expensive requirements for homes being rebuilt within newly mapped flood hazard zones, which will take into account the storm’s vast reach, pose a serious threat to middle-class and lower-income enclaves. In Queens, on Staten Island, on Long Island and at the Jersey Shore, many families have clung fast to a modest coastal lifestyle, often passing bungalows or small Victorian homes down through generations, even as development turned other places into playgrounds for the well-to-do.

New Insurance Rules

And though it may seem hard hearted that middle and lower classes are “being forced” out of the homes, here’s the deal

…it may come as a surprise to American taxpayers that they are on the hook for at least $527 billion of vulnerable assets in the nation’s coastal flood plains. Those homes and businesses are insured by the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program.

You read that right: $527 billion, which is just a portion of the program’s overall liability of $1.25 trillion, second only to Social Security in the liabilities on the government’s ledgers last year, according to government data.

The flood insurance program was created by Congress in 1968 to fill a void: because of the risk, few carriers provided flood insurance. Now, private insurers offer flood insurance in a partnership with the government — but taxpayers shoulder all the risk. It has turned out to be a bad bet. The program is $18 billion in debt, a sum the government acknowledges probably will never be paid back by premiums, and it is likely to need a new multibillion-dollar infusion to pay claims from Hurricane Sandy.

End Flood Insurance

So what to do? Seems to me it’s not just a case of flood insurance, but all perverse incentives to live somewhere that property damage and life disruption is statistically predictable to much higher than the norm. That includes those in high fire zones, river flood plains,maybe even parts of ‘Tornado Alley.” It’s all there, in the numbers.

What about offering a one-time property purchase for those staring at the stark reality? Turn the former home lots into public shore. Throw in a nice moving allowance, even free grief counseling, and give people a year to decide. If they don’t take the offer, they’re on their own: no more subsidized insurance, take your chances. And by they way, if the next storm wipes you out, no second chances. Property converts to public shore, you move and rebuild at your own expense.

Sea Level Rise: Up, Up and Away!

Sea levels, after several thousand years of little or no change, began to rise steadily in the early 1900s, trailing the Industrial Revolution and the increased use of fossil fuels by decades.  Projections for future rise vary from difficult to catastrophic.  A report released on Friday, June 22, 2010 by the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, has occasioned  a spate of articles, with only a few making it to the front pages.  SF Chronicle: David Perlman; Newser;  AFP;  NY Times (using AP)

The West Coast papers emphasize the difference in expected sea level rise in the California of the San Andreas fault, and the California north of Cape Mendocino, Oregon and Washington which rides up over the subsiding Juan de Fuca ocean plate.

For the California coast south of Cape Mendocino, the committee projects that sea level will rise 4–30 cm [1.6″-11.8″] by 2030 relative to 2000, 12–61 cm [4.7″- 24″] by 2050, and 42–167 cm [16.5″ – 65.7″] by 2100. For the Washington, Oregon, and California coasts north of Cape Mendocino, sea level is projected to change between -4 cm (sea-level fall) and +23 cm by 2030, -3 cm and +48 cm by 2050, and 10–143 cm by 2100.

 On the East Coast attention is focused on a 600 mile “hot spot from Cape Hatteras to Boston where a second report, from the U.S. Geological Service, says the sea is rising 3-4 times faster than the global average.

In absolute figures, sea levels on this stretch of coast have climbed by between 2 and 3.7 millimetres per year since 1980, whereas the global increase over the same period was 0.6–1.0 millimetres per year.

The existence of the hotspot is consistent with the measured slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation, which may be tied to changes in water temperature, salinity and density in the subpolar north of the ocean.

The researchers predicted that by 2100, sea levels in the hotspot would rise by between 20 and 29 centimetres above the global increase, which most oceanographers predict will be about one metre.

The meat of the NRC report is here:

Sea-level change is one of the most visible consequences of changes in the Earth’s climate.
A warming climate causes global sea level to rise principally by (1) warming the oceans, which
causes sea water to expand, increasing ocean volume, and (2) melting land ice, which transfers
water to the ocean. Tide gage and satellite observations show that global sea level has risen an
average of about 1.7 mm yr over the 20th century (Bindoff et al., 2007), which is a significant
increase over rates of sea-level rise during the past few millennia (Shennan and Horton, 2002;
Gehrels et al., 2004). Projections suggest that sea level will continue to rise in the future (Figure
1.1). However, the rate at which sea level is changing varies from place to place and with time.
Along the west coast of the United States, sea level is influenced by changes in global mean sea
level as well as by regional changes in ocean circulation and climate patterns such as El Niño;
gravitational and deformational effects of ice age and modern ice mass changes; and uplift or
subsidence along the coast. The relative importance of these factors in any given area determines
whether the local sea level will rise or fall and how fast it will change.

FIGURE 1.1 Estimated, observed, and projected global sea-level rise from 1800 to 2100. The pre-1900 record is based on geological evidence, and the observed record is from tide gages (red line) and satellite altimetry (blue line). Example projections of sea-level rise to 2100 are from IPCC (2007) global climate models (pink shaded area) and semi-empirical methods (gray shaded area; Rahmstorf, 2007). SOURCES: Adapted from Shum et al. (2008), Willis et al. (2010), and Shum and Kuo (2011)

The report was requested by ten state and federal agencies including 4 in California (see ix of the report) which want the best information for planning purposes — unlike the North Carolina Senate which recently passed a bill regulating which measurements were to be used in calculating sea-rise.  [It appears that the scorn storm breached the walls of idiocy and the bill has now been re-written, having been resoundingly rejected by the NC House.]

Here’s a handy little map device to drill down to your back yard and see how sea level rise might affect you (This is a linear plot, so it doesn’t take in the variances reported on above.  Interesting nevertheless.]