Department of Ecology News Release - July 30, 2015

Puget Sound sweltering from the drought and Blob

OLYMPIA – Washington is feeling the heat this summer, and Puget Sound is no exception. It's been hot and dry, with all kinds of weather records being set. The unusually hot temperatures don't end at the water's edge; record-breaking temperatures are being in recorded in Puget Sound, too.

Scientists noted warming temperatures as “the Blob” from the Pacific Ocean migrated in to Puget Sound. And concerns about warmer-than-normal temperatures have only increased as the drought continues to heat up and dry out the state.

“We’re measuring water temperatures in the Sound 4 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal from our past 25 years of record keeping,” said Christopher Krembs, Ecology senior oceanographer. “We’re seeing warm water everywhere, from Olympia to Bellingham.”

Monitoring work by the Washington Department of Ecology and other scientific partners in county, state and federal agencies suggests that these warm conditions are causing negative side effects on the Puget Sound marine environment.

There has been an increase in harmful algae blooms, shellfish closures, lower dissolved oxygen levels, and unfavorable conditions for salmon and other cold-loving marine species.

Scientists are keenly interested in the unusual conditions and how they impact Puget Sound. It is important to understand the impacts of warm water and weather. Warm water inherently holds less oxygen and fosters disease. By collaborating to better understand the Blob and drought, monitor and improve water quality, and track marine life, the state can better prepare for climate change.

Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond said, “The overall weather conditions of the last year or so are expected to occur much more commonly in the future decades. The present short-term climate event therefore provides an opportunity to better understand how the region will be impacted by global climate change, and the potential adaptations that could be undertaken to reduce its deleterious effects.”

Lead Ecology computer modeling scientist Mindy Roberts added, “Our computer modeling team has found that warmer ocean water and lower summer river flows decrease the amount of oxygen available throughout Puget Sound, which is not good news for fish. We should learn as much as we can this year to be better prepared for the future.”

Not only are rivers low, but they are also warm, with 80 percent of monitored streams running less than the 25th percentile of usual.

“We’ve been seeing flows for months that mimic typical flows for September,” said Jim Shedd, Ecology surface water hydrologist.

“It’s proving difficult to push the Blob out of Puget Sound with these low-flowing, warm rivers caused by drought. We’re not getting enough estuarine circulation. Without circulation, whatever gets into Puget Sound, be it warm water or pollution, is going to stick around,” Shedd said. 

Learn more about these conditions and the impacts to marine life in Ecology’s ECOconnect blog: Puget Sound waters left sweltering after double punch from the drought and the Blob

Contact:

Jessica Payne, communications, jessica.payne@ecy.wa.gov, 509-575-2610; @ecologyWA