2017 began with an icy snap: in early January, British Columbia experienced the first really cold weather in several years. Starting in late 2013, wind and weather patterns over the northeast Pacific shifted, evolving into what has become known as the warm Blob (Figure 1). The surface temperatures of this massive region of the northeast Pacific Ocean climbed as much as three degrees Celcius above the seasonal average.
Figure 1: The warm Blob in June 2015, as revealed by NOAA sea surface temperature maps.
From 2014-2016, the entire region from California to Alaska experienced long, warm summers and short, mild winters. The 2015 El Niño also contributed to warmer conditions, but a weak La Niña in the fall of 2016 brought a return to the northern regions’ more typical ski-friendly winter conditions.
Figure 2: Temperature record from one of the sensors at 100 m depth at Folger Passage. The solid red line is the hourly mean, with the shaded area showing the local range of temperature values.
Ocean Networks Canada’s (ONC) Folger Passage sensors detected the arrival of the warm Blob along the west coast of Vancouver Island in the fall of 2014, following October’s southerly warm winds. Water temperatures at 100 m depth reached nearly 12.5 degrees Celsius, over 1.5 degrees warmer than any previous time in the record. Seasonal northwest winds consistently bring cooler water conditions ashore each summer. In November 2016, Folger again recorded warm conditions, with temperatures reaching a record 12.9 degrees Celsius on 15 November 2016 (Figure 2).
Figure 3: Temperature record from the Conductivity Temperature Depth sensor at 95 m in Saanich Inlet. The solid red line is the hourly mean, with the shaded area showing the local range of temperature values.
Warm conditions were also recorded throughout the Salish Sea from 2014-2016. In 95 m water depth in the Saanich Inlet, the temperatures steadily climbed, peaking in late 2015 at over 10.5 degrees Celsius (Figure 3). Winter cooling in 2015-2016 was so weak that the coldest temperature in 2016 was higher than the warmest temperatures reached in either 2012 or 2013. These graphs were generated using ONC’s Oceans 2.0 Plotting Utility.
ONC will be attending Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s annual State of the Pacific Ocean Meeting, 22-23 March 2017. Stay tuned for further northeast Pacific Ocean condition updates.