Freaky Algae Bloom in North Atlantic Looks Like Dead Zone Eddy

Back in March, we reported on a new study that found algae blooms concentrating in ocean eddies off Africa were generating mobile dead zones threatening sea life in the Tropical Atlantic. Based on recent satellite imagery analysis, such phenomena may not just be isolated to regions off the Ivory Coast and Gibraltar. It instead appears that mobile and potentially oxygen-depleting algae blooms may also be cropping up in the far North Atlantic.

Deadzone Eddie

(Is the North Atlantic starting to see eddies which host ocean dead zones? The image above appears to show just such a feature. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Ever since mid-June, a strange feature has been visible in the satellite shot of an ocean region bracketed by Iceland, Svalbard, and the center of the Scandinavian Coastline. The area appears to include a major algae bloom which has been swept up into an ocean eddy. Measuring about 30 miles in diameter, the bloom displays visible aspects similar to its more southerly cousins. As with the mobile Tropical Atlantic Dead Zones off Africa, this swirl appears to have concentrated surface water nutrients — generating a region of more intensified microbial growth. A growth that now shows the tell-tale neon blue contrast of an algae bloom capable of tanking surface ocean oxygen levels.

High Latitude algae blooms are a prevalent occurrence during Spring and Summer as Ocean surface waters warm. And during recent years, rapidly warming waters and retreating sea ice has enabled more prolific algae blooms in northern seas. Though these waters contain more oxygen due to overall cooler temperatures, both the increased warmth and the large algae blooms generate a mechanism for loss of oxygen content in the vital surface zone.

Eddie algae bloom

(Strange algae bloom with characteristics similar to mobile Tropical Atlantic Dead Zones is visible as the blue dot at center frame in this July 2 LANCE MODIS satellite image.)

In addition to human forced warming of the ocean system reducing overall ocean oxygen levels, human fossil fuel burning, fertilizer runoff and deluges increasing run-off volume (due to global warming’s impact on the hydrological cycle) adds nutrients to surface waters. The nutrients come primarily in the form of nitrogen which rains down as fossil fuel fallout or is flushed in ever greater volumes down river systems as frequency of extreme rainfall events increase. As a result, the oceans are being loaded up with food for algae blooms.

A similar mechanism (usually triggered through enhanced volcanism) is thought to have lead to mass ocean die-offs in at least four of the five major mass extinction events. A mechanism which was likely most lethal when it started to enable anoxic ocean environments hosting microbes capable of producing massive volumes of hydrogen sulfide gas — which in the worst cases filled the oceans and vented into the atmosphere.

Ocean eddies further concentrate the nutrient run-off and fall-out through their churning action. So algae blooms have tended to intensify in these swirls of ocean currents. In the Tropical Atlantic, algae production in the eddies has been enough to generate large microbial die-offs and related depletion of oxygen — generating moving dead zones. If the newly identified algae blooms in these satellite photos are prolific enough to consume all the available nutrients in surface waters, they will also die off and, decaying, rob these waters of vital oxygen. Such an action could promote dead zone environments in northern waters in addition to those already documented in the Tropical Atlantic.

Links:

Ocean Dead Zones Swirl Off Africa

LANCE MODIS

Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse — Hydrogen Sulfide in the World’s Warming Oceans

Anoxic Event

Hat Tip to Griffin (Who was the first to spot this particular algae bloom eddy in the MODIS shot)

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45 Comments

  1. climatehawk1

     /  July 6, 2015

    Tweet scheduled. Also FYI, I am a crackerjack proofer–if you’d like your entries proofed and a redline sent (as soon as I can get to them), send me an e-mail address. I’m on Gmail.

    Reply
  2. Jeremy

     /  July 6, 2015

    Good news from the UK, widely celebrated today in UK media:-

    “UK car sales hit record high in June”.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-33405946

    Pedal to the metal until we slam into a brick wall.
    As a society, we aren’t even starting to get serious about our ecological predicament.

    Reply
    • I think about this pretty much every day. We keep growing and growing, pursuing economic growth at all costs at an ever quickening pace. The general public has zero knowledge of the current situation, and every person is chasing the “American dream” as if that’s the correct way to live and it’s just the way things have always been. There will always be more resources and our waste simply disappears when we are through with it. Have as many kids as you want, and if you have enough you’ll get your own TV show and become famous! Every behavior and life goal of a typical American (I have to sadly admit most of my family and friends included) revolves around consuming more and aquiring more material possessions. And nearly every decision being made by major corporations and our government is based on the assumption that our fossil fuel based systems will be the primary infrastructure and continue to grow. Car companies are making millions of gas/diesel powered trucks every year. Coal plants are still being built. Oil and gas reserves are still being chased down all over the globe, despite knowing that we need to leave the majority in the ground. When one looks around at our culture and the speed at which we race into the wrongest possible direction, it’s nearly impossible to stay optimistic.

      Reply
      • There’s trouble locked in now. We don’t stop and it’s very, very ugly.

        So, in my view, we have locked in about 1.9 C warming by end Century (3.8 C long term). If we keep burning fossil fuels at a moderate to BAU pace, we hit between 3.5 and 8.5 C warming. So shutting off the fossil fuel engine as fast as possible really saves a lot of pain. 2.2 C warming is bad. 4.4 C warming is basically ten times worse if you look at impacts.

        If we were really serious we’d be shutting off fossil fuel based energy as fast as possible. No new coal or gas or oil developments and mothballing existing at a very rapid pace. Once all that’s done we can start looking at ways to try to take down some of the excess carbon by changing various practices. But the fossil fuel needs to go first.

        Reply
  3. A really dramatic decline of Turkey’s glaciers in just the last four decades.

    http://climate.nasa.gov/news/2304/

    Reply
  4. Tom

     /  July 7, 2015

    http://scitechdaily.com/demise-of-laurentide-ice-sheet-radiative-forcing/

    Demise of Laurentide Ice Sheet Due to Sudden Shift in “Radiative Forcing”
    [quote]

    A new study has found that the massive Laurentide ice sheet that covered Canada during the last ice age initially began shrinking through calving of icebergs, and then abruptly shifted into a new regime where melting on the continent took precedence, ultimately leading to the sheet’s demise.

    Researchers say a shift in “radiative forcing” began prior to 9,000 years ago and kicked the deglaciation into overdrive. The results are important, scientists say, because they may provide a clue to how ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica may respond to a warming climate. [more]

    Reply
  5. Andy in San Diego

     /  July 7, 2015
    Reply
    • The ones in the North Sea are highly visible as well. Quite a lot all up and down the coast this year.

      Reply
    • You guys getting the most recent MODIS shot. Alaska fires appear to have made another jump toward extreme. Man is this going to be one hell of a season.

      Reply
      • Andy in San Diego

         /  July 7, 2015

        Yeah, been looking at that and the lower mainland in BC, northern Alberta. Bloody nasty.

        Did you read the article Bob linked yesterday on the El Nino thread? Serious deltas on temperature all over.

        Reply
      • Leland Palmer

         /  July 8, 2015

        Yes, the fires are still looking real bad.

        http://1.usa.gov/1eEASdD

        Canada, too. I wonder just what percentage of the boreal forest will burn, this year. And what percentage per year in years to come?

        More lightning in the future seems to fit in with the general increased atmospheric moisture, more energetic storms, and increased extreme weather. Lightning plus high temperatures…the ridiculously resilient ridge…increased droughts – and we’re still just getting started. I’m almost sorry I’m still around to see it. How sad.

        Reply
  6. Loni

     /  July 7, 2015

    Great post Robert, the reference to a Canfield Ocean ought to be unnerving enough……….but then one would have thought that those methane eruptions in the Yamal peninsula would have shocked everyone. One would have thought……..so many dead canaries.

    Here on the west coast of the U.S. we’re seeing the apparent effects from not only hot waters, but Fukushima as well, with no end in sight for that problem.

    We, unwittingly have put our oceans on a ‘Hit List.’ We take the friggin’ cake.

    Reply
  7. Jeremy

     /  July 7, 2015

    Derek Jensen interviews Dhar Jamal on the US Navy’s current plans to destroy the Arctic ecosystem. Very sad, so very very sad.

    It has begun.

    [audio src="http://s60.podbean.com/pb/b098ddcc2211903aa00ead4e582893b8/559b0a1c/data3/blogs18/637751/uploads/ResistanceRadio_070515.mp3" /]

    Bye bye Right Whale :-((

    Reply
  8. Reblogged this on jpratt27.

    Reply
  9. Colorado Bob

     /  July 7, 2015

    Hit by drought and seawater, Bangkok tap water may run out in a month

    BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Bangkok’s tap water supply may run out in a month, as the country waits for long overdue rains to replenish sources depleted by drought and threatened by seawater creep, the chief of the capital’s water authority said.

    http://news.yahoo.com/hit-drought-seawater-bangkok-tap-water-may-run-000717650.html

    Reply
  10. Colorado Bob

     /  July 7, 2015

    Coral bleaching threat increasing in western Atlantic
    and Pacific oceans
    Rising ocean temperatures threaten spread of major heat stress to Hawaiian reefs
    http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2015/20150706-coral-bleaching-threat-increasing-in-western-atlantic-and-pacific-oceans.html

    Reply
  11. Colorado Bob

     /  July 7, 2015

    Climate change a big factor in persistent wildfires: Professor
    Wildland fire expert says decreased rains are due to ‘lazy jetstream’

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/climate-change-a-big-factor-in-persistent-wildfires-professor-1.3140860

    Reply
    • I like the way he put it:

      ‘ A former weather forecaster with Environment Canada, Flannigan says climate change is contributing to a lazy jet stream, effectively decreasing the energy needed to create rain and wet conditions.

      “Normally, a low pressure system comes through every three to five days, giving us rain and keeping the fire problem in check,” he said.

      What’s supposed to be “a strong band of wind that carries a low and high pressure system,” with two different spheres of temperature that create high energy…’

      Reply
  12. Some encouraging news on the renewable energy front. It would be wonderful if all developing countries skipped over the fossil fuel stage and go straight to renewables. Kenya is on the right track. Prob influenced by Obama, since he was born there😉

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/07/06/3677104/kenya-builds-africas-largest-wind-farm/

    Reply
  13. danabanana

     /  July 7, 2015

    OT

    Retrograde Jet Stream. Welcome to Earth 2.0

    Reply
    • danabanana

       /  July 7, 2015

      I’m sure I pasted the image from 07/07/2015:/

      look at the 07/07/2015 image for a fuller retrograde motion off the coast of Alaska.

      Reply
      • wili

         /  July 7, 2015

        “I’m sure I pasted the image from 07/07/2015”
        That often happens. If we click on the image, though, the map for that date does appear. Thanks for posting it. Yeah, really strange pattern around Alaska…where all the fires are.

        Reply
  14. Reblogged this on abraveheart1.

    Reply
  15. Hit by drought and seawater, Bangkok tap water may run out in a month

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/07/us-thailand-drought-water-idUSKCN0PH00920150707

    Reply
  16. Colorado Bob

     /  July 7, 2015

    Fires and smoke in northern Alaska

    Aqua/MODIS
    2015/187
    07/06/2015
    23:00 UTC

    Link

    Reply
  17. Colorado Bob

     /  July 7, 2015

    Central Africa

    Aqua/MODIS
    2015/188
    07/07/2015
    11:50 UTC

    Link

    Reply
  18. Greg

     /  July 7, 2015

    Air quality index in Minneapolis-St. Paul yesterday was higher than Beijing, owing to Canada wildfires. A description and analysis by Peter Sinclair:

    http://climatecrocks.com/2015/07/07/anybody-smell-smoke/#more-24266

    Reply
  19. Have there been any attempts to quantify just how great the extent of the blooms are in the oceans and seas? It would be an interesting (if morbid) plot to see how much surface area is occupied monthly for every year and how this changes in response to agricultural activities and climate change.

    Reply
  20. Colorado Bob

     /  July 7, 2015

    Thousands of birds abandon eggs, nests on Florida island

    In this Friday, June 19, 2015 photo, In this Friday, June 19, 2015 photo, an Osprey returns to its nest in Seahorse Key, off Florida’s Gulf Coast. In May, Seahorse Key fell eerily quiet, as thousands of birds suddenly disappeared, and biologists are trying to find the reason why. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Vic Doig said what was once the largest bird colony on the state’s Gulf Coast is now a “dead zone.”

    Link

    Reply
  21. Colorado Bob

     /  July 7, 2015

    SHELBYVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Record rainfall continues to take a toll on Indiana’s crops, with Purdue University experts estimating that farmers statewide have lost $486 million in corn and soybean production.

    Link

    Reply
  22. “About 12% of the world’s reefs have suffered bleaching in the last year. Just under half of these, an area of 12,000 sq km of coral, may be lost forever.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/07/six-percent-of-worlds-coral-could-be-lost-in-current-mass-bleaching-say-scientists

    Reply
  23. – ” previously set in 1983 and twice in 2003.”

    Germany reaches new all-time hottest temperature during Europe heatwave

    On Sunday, the German weather service Deutscher Wetterdienst announced that a new all-time hot temperature record was confirmed for the country. At 3:40 p.m. local time,Kitzingen, Germany reached a scorching high temperature of 104.5 degrees (40.3 degrees Celsius), breaking the old national temperature record of 104.4 degrees (40.2 degrees Celsius) which was previously set in 1983 and twice in 2003.http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2015/07/06/germany-sets-new-all-time-hottest-temperature-record-during-europe-heatwave/

    Reply
  24. Colorado Bob

     /  July 7, 2015

    As other glaciers retreat, glacier at Mount St. Helens grows

    http://www.adn.com/article/20150706/other-glaciers-retreat-glacier-mount-st-helens-grows

    Reply
  25. Colorado Bob

     /  July 7, 2015

    Pakistan headed for water, food and energy disaster, NA committee told

    The Ministry for Climate Change on Tuesday warned that in the next five years there will be serious complications regarding water scarcity, food shortage and energy crisis, if precautionary measures are not taken to tackle climate change in Pakistan.

    “It will not only have an impact on human health but will also affect the country politically and economically,” Federal Secretary for Climate Change, Arif Ahmed Khan told the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Climate Change.

    Link

    Reply
  26. “The most important climate story today is the global coal renaissance”: http://www.vox.com/2015/7/7/8908179/coal-global-climate-change

    Reply
  27. Colorado Bob

     /  July 7, 2015

    Forest fires: A disaster of historic proportions

    Forest fire season has hit Canada early, and it has hit Canada hard. As of Monday more than 2 million hectares of forest were on fire, thousands were on the run, several battalions’ worth of soldiers were being scrambled to Saskatchewan and even B.C.’s famously moist rainforests had become dry enough to be torn through by flames. National Post reporter Tristin Hopper reports that with searing temperatures and bone-dry conditions forecast for the immediate future, it may just be the beginning:

    Link

    Reply
  28. Colorado Bob

     /  July 7, 2015

    Rainforest Fire in Washington May Be Ominous Sign

    The Queets rain forest in Washington state’s Olympic National Park is the American jungle — one of the last remnants of the primeval temperate rain forests that once stretched from southern Oregon to southeast Alaska. But now, that precious ecosystem may be endangered by fires, due to climate change and a punishing drought that has affected even the normally moist Pacific Northwest.

    Fires have burned holes into some of the trunks of the centuries-old Sitka spruce and western hemlock trees, causing the massive trees — some of them up to 250 feet tall — to come crashing to the ground, the Seattle Times reports.

    Link

    Reply
    • Also, after that last post I feel like my brain is about to fall out of my head. Sea ice looks like it’s about to get crushed.

      Reply
  29. What really gets me is that the eddy filled with algae is running in a clockwise direction instead of the normal anti-/counter-clockwise direction. Pardon my dumb question, but how typical is that?

    Reply

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