In late 2013, a portion of the North Pacific Ocean off the coast of Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska became unusually warm. Parts of it five to six degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal.
This continent-sized patch quickly became known as "The Blob." Its ability to warm the air above is blamed for two record fire seasons in Washington state in 2014 and 2015, a drought, and record low snowpack in the winter of 2014/2015.
Nick Bond, Washington State's climatologist, says while the blob has pretty much dissipated, we are still feeling some of the hangover effects, as the water along the West Coast is still one to two degrees above normal.
Turns out “The Blob” isn't that rare. And unlike another ocean phenomenon known as El Nino, it's not just found in the Pacific Ocean.
In a new research paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, University of Washington oceanographer and doctoral student Hillary Scannell looks back through 65 years of warming events in both the North Atlantic as well as the North Pacific oceans.
"They're becoming more extreme,” said Scannell from her campus office.
Scannell is the lead author of "Frequency of marine heatwaves in the North Atlantic and North Pacific since 1950.” At the University of Maine, she studied a 2012 blob or heatwave that, among other things, affected the lobster fishery.
The research finds that the number of longer term, deeper events started in the 1970s. Before that, “they weren't occurring at such a high-temperature average, so the range of variability was much smaller and lower than it is now,” said Scannell.