Ocean Pastures West of California Have Become Blue Deserts

Ocean Pastures West of California Have Become Blue Deserts

Data from satellites have confirmed that ocean pastures west of California have suffered the worst collapse ever measured, 35% of pasture productivity was lost in 2013.

It’s no wonder seabirds and sea lions starving and dead are washing up on beaches in unprecedented numbers.

Dr. Frank Whitney, a retired chemical oceanographer in Canada and author of the new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters says, “There’s less chlorophyll than we’ve ever seen in the transition zone from the satellite data that started in 1997.” Other scientists report that a similar, perhaps even worse, event is taking place this winter.


Snip of Google News search on terms “mass seabird death” click to enlarge

These vital ocean pastures normally support vast amounts of marine life but are now clearly in a catastrophic state of collapse and are becoming blue deserts incapable of sustaining marine life. Confirmation of the ocean pasture collapse also comes in the form of startling news reports of starving sea life along the west coast. Here’s a link to a report on the seabirds dying in the Pacific along with the sardines both of which are keystone species of ocean pastures.

Sea lions dying in record numbers - snip from Google News search on term "mass death sea lions" - click to enlaarge

Sea lions dying in record numbers – snip from Google News search on term “mass death sea lions” – click to enlaarge

It’s not just seabirds but also sea lions that have been starving to death in increasing numbers. This year the numbers of starving sea lions being seen on California beaches has more than doubled over last years carnage. While scientists may like their high technology provided by satellites and computer models the far more obvious proof of ocean pastures that can no longer sustain life is seen in the hundreds of thousands, even millions sea creatures starved to death washing up on the beaches from California north to Alaska.


Vast blue deserts are replacing former rich ocean pastures to the west of California as vital mineral dust that normally arrives in the wind has gone missing.

The chlorophyll maps of the Pacific clearly show that vast regions to the west of California have become blue deserts. for January through May 2014 over the subtropical and subarctic North Pacific Ocean were unmistakable. Chlorophyll anomalies as best measured by satellite are a comparison of measured chlorophyll concentrations compared to historic concentrations.

Last winter (2013-2014), the nutrient dust-transporting winds were blocked by an unusually strong high pressure ridge that scientists say contributed to the California drought. The high pressure ridge also kept heat in the ocean, leading to sea surface temperatures in the northeastern Pacific Ocean that were up to 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal and more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than any year on record. The unusual winds and warm water also inhibited the transport of nutrient-rich water to the south, according to a new study.

Dust in the wind is for ocean pastures as important as rain is for pastures on land

So at the same time that California is suffering a terrible lack of rain and drought on land, its vital ocean pastures are suffering an even worse drought of dust. The pastures of California have long been converted from their role sustaining herds of wildlife so we are not reading of mass die-offs of California deer and other species, yet. But the catastrophe far out to sea is clearly devastating marine life as we can count in the bodies of sea birds and sea lions washing up dead on California beaches. Only a tiny fraction of sea birds and sea lions that die at sea ever wash onto the beaches.

Starved sea birds on beaches all up and down the Pacific Coast

Starved sea birds on beaches all up and down the Pacific Coast

A decline in phytoplankton in this ocean area west of California and its expansion northward to cooler waters impacts vast numbers of fish and marine species that feed on them, including highly prized tuna, and also predators further up the food chain, like seabirds, according to Whitney.

“You can see this is (an area) that an awful lot of animals use to feed in winter,” he said. “After seeing this large reduction in chlorophyll, then I have to speculate that there’s going to be all sorts of impact on all the animals that usually use this area to feed.”

Scientists have been studying the 2013-2014 winter’s unprecedented warm waters in the eastern North Pacific Ocean and the unusual weather pattern that contributed to it, but the new study is the first to look at the impact on chlorophyll levels in the regions ocean pasture. Nick Bond, a research scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, who was not involved in the new study comments on the new paper saying it shows a definitive impact on food availability.

“In that region, the sea surface temperature anomalies were so striking – as high as we’ve ever seen them,” Bond said. “It was an extreme event, at least in that pocket of the northeast Pacific.”

“The magnitude of what happened last winter and what is happening this winter is enough that there’s got to be consequences,” he added.

It could take time before scientists are able to see the changes that the lower chlorophyll levels had on species further up the food chain, like fish and birds, Whitney said. He said it can take scientists months before they get back information from tagging studies used to look at off-shore species.

“When these data are being looked at in comparison to other years, I think we are going to see some striking results from this last winter,” he said.

“We know that the biology responds to the physics but the key point that is made is that last winter may produce kind of an example of what is liable to be more frequent in future decades just having to do with climate change,” Bond said.

There is something we can do! We must immediately take on the role of good shepherds of our vital ocean pastures.

Society and individuals have always sprung into action to help fight off the deadly effects of droughts on land. But facing the worst drought that pastures have ever seen, that happening now on ocean pastures, there seems to be an incredible attitude that we can’t do anything about it. Or even worse that we should just let Nature runs its course, if that means the oceans go through the worst mass extinction imaginable, well… meh.

sitka news salmon story

click to read story

The truth is that we can replenish and restore ocean pastures and become their good shepherds. The effort required is quite simple and incredibly inexpensive. There will be no hundreds of billions of new taxes require, rather mere millions. The scientific work to develop and demonstrate just how ocean pastures can be replenished, restored, and sustained is largely done by ocean scientists from 50 nations over the past 27 years at a cost of a quarter of a billion dollars in public funds.

Then there is my example of doing it at a scale effective enough to restore tens of thousands of sq. miles of NE Pacific ocean pasture resulting the growing and catch of hundreds of millions of additional fish. Fish so plentiful that the USDA is today serving over 100 million meals of this healthy pasture fed fish, Alaska salmon, to needy children throughout the USA. To read how I did it here’s a link to Bringing Back The Fish.