Widespread “dead zone” forms off Oregon and Washington coasts

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We’ve seen dead zones before, but researchers say this one will be bigger and much closer to shore than they anticipated.

PORTLAND, Oregon – Scientists say a huge dead zone is forming off the coasts of Oregon and Washington.

We’ve seen dead zones before, but researchers say this one will be bigger and much closer to shore than they anticipated.

In 2006, crabs littered the ocean floor off the coast of Oregon. There was no fish to speak of. It was a dead zone. One of the first researchers had discovered it off the coast of Oregon.

Dead zones occur when winds create upwelling, causing oxygen levels in the ocean to drop so low that marine life cannot survive.

In 2006, researchers did not measure any oxygen in the water.

“The years when summer starts early are the years when we see the worst low oxygen hypoxic areas,” said Dr. Francis Chan, marine ecologist at Oregon State University.

Since then, Chan has been monitoring oxygen levels in the ocean. And last spring, he predicted another dead zone this summer.

“Unfortunately we were right, those predictions were correct and we are seeing waters with very low dissolved oxygen content,” Chan said.

Chan said this year is shaping up to be 2006, but much bigger and closer to shore.

A recent NOAA research trip discovered an area of ​​low oxygen stretching from northern Washington state to Oregon and only about 6 miles offshore.

“It followed the model’s projections pretty well, except it got closer to shore than we expected,” said Richard Feely, NOAA senior scientist. “It was a little more intense than expected and certainly closer to the coast.”

“We’re not at zero, but we’re really getting close to zero and it’s only mid-summer,” Chan said.

Chan predicts that oxygen levels in this region will drop even lower before summer is over.

And the closer these dead zones get to shore, the more impact they have on our fisheries, especially the crab industry. That’s why researchers will continue to watch our ocean, monitor marine life, and track something they believe may be here to stay.

“One of the ways that climate change is expressed in the ocean is the expansion of things like these areas with low dissolved oxygen.” Chan explained. “This is one of the warning signs of climate change.”


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