The Glowing Waters of the Arabian Sea are Killing off Ocean Life

“The fish are migrating. They can’t get enough air here.” — Saleh al-Mashari, captain of a researcher vessel in the Gulf of Oman

*****

They are an ancient, primordial race of tiny organisms called noctiluca scintillans. And for millenia they have lived undisturbed in the deep waters between Oman and India. But as human fossil fuel burning forced the world to warm, this 1.2 billion year old species was dredged up from the deep.

Growing atmospheric and ocean heat fed the great storms that make up India’s southern monsoon. And as these storms intensified, they churned the waters of the Gulf of Oman, drawing the ancient noctiluca scintillans up from below. As these dinoflaggelates reached the surface they encountered more food in the form of plankton even as they gained access to more sunlight. Meanwhile, the strengthening monsoons seeded surface waters with nutrients flushed down rivers and streams and into the ocean.

(Noctiluca blooms have become a common feature of the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. They have also recently appeared off New Zealand, Tasmania, and Hong Kong. Such blooms are a result of warmer waters, more intense storms, related increasing rates of soil nutrients flushing into the oceans due to more intense rainfall events, and other conditions consistent with human-caused climate change. Image source: FaHaD.)

In this newly favorable environment, noctiluca subsequently bloomed. Covering the ocean in a green mat by day and an oddly iridescent blue when disturbed by the waves at night.

Phytoplankton are the base of the marine food chain and noctiluca has been voraciously devouring this key nutrient source over a Mexico-sized stretch of ocean water during recent years. As the noctiluca blooms expanded, they emitted toxins and an ammonia smell that some in the region are calling sea stench. And as the great mats died and decayed, they have robbed the surrounding waters of oxygen.

As a result, mass fish kills have been reported and much of the local sea life has fled the region.

March 2, 2017, image from the NASA MODIS satellite,  shows a mass of noctiluca scintillans blooms in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Oman extending past Pakistan to India.  (Image source: NASA and USGS, via AP)

Earth’s environment usually changes slowly, over the course of thousands or tens of thousands of years. In the past, this has given life a chance to adjust. But the human-caused climate change that is spurring the massive noctiluca blooms in the Arabian Sea is bringing on these new conditions over the mere course of a few decades. Thirty years ago, there was no visible trace of noctiluca in the waters of the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea. Now, they have come to dominate.

The oceans beneath the noctiluca mats are now increasingly robbed of life. Oxygen levels are plummeting. The fish can’t breathe there. And one wonders if or when a dangerous and deadly follow-on of hydrogen sulfide producing microbes will begin to spread up from the bottom regions of these oxygen starved waters.

Links:

Growing Algae Bloom in the Arabian Sea Tied to Climate Change

FaHaD

Noctiluca Scintillans

NASA

Hydrogen Sulfide in the World’s Warming Waters

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to Mulga

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85 Comments

  1. Genomik

     /  March 19, 2017

    Between this AND the enormous drought in the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Sudan, Yemen etc), that entire region is under intense CC pressure. With this problem starving the seas and the drought starving the land a reasonable person would expect massive political destabilization and climate refugees.
    With Erdogan flirting w ISIS these refugees can end up everywhere. Perhaps Trump and right wing European leaders want there to be climate stresses and destabilization down there so they have an enemy to rally against and grow their own Christian armies. We are already deeply involved in Yemen which is also likely dis-affected by this anoxic Arabian Sea.
    I’m glad “Mad Dog” Mattis sees CC as a geopolitically destabilizing force. One would think many rational military generals see the writing on the wall, that CC is helping cause wars we already deeply involved in. Many in the military (not all), are highly rational and don’t want to send their children off to fight needless wars.
    We’ve got to get the military more on our side even as Trump appears hopeless.

    Reply
    • Bill H

       /  March 19, 2017

      Glad to hear that Mattis recognises the importance of CC. I agree about the importance of the military as a whole in reining in Trump. They seem to be one of the very few institutions that might be able to keep trump in contact with reality, as opposed to Breitbartian fantasy.

      Reply
    • Large blooms of this microbe also appearing off Tanzania. Check that — Tasmania (updated).

      Reply
      • mulga mumblebrain

         /  March 19, 2017

        Also recently reported in Tasmania (in ‘Preservation Bay’-who says God hasn’t got a sense of humour?)and, in a typical example of our mass denialism and group derangement even as the biospheres crash around us, it is being welcomed as potentional new tourist industry. With the Great Barrier Reef dead, the Chinese tourists have to go somewhere.

        Reply
        • redskylite

           /  March 20, 2017

          I remember reading about Tasmania and the glowing blue seas in N.Z’s Yahoo news. It was reported as a welcome tourist draw & attraction and a natural phenomena due to perfect conditions. Same day I read in the Guardian that it was a sign of future things to come and climate change/warming sea related, with superficial reporting like yahoo it is not surprising that many people are totally unaware and unconcerned with warming/climate change related subjects and changes.

        • Cate

           /  March 20, 2017

          Not to mention the bucket-listers and destination-collectors. It’s even got a name: Last-Chance Tourism. See stuff we are destroying before we destroy it all. That’s not just cynical, that’s morally depraved.

  2. Erik Frederiksen

     /  March 19, 2017

    There was an article a month or two ago in the Guardian about a large dead zone in The Bay of Bengal. Farmers there were driven by drought to fish the Bay and fisheries there have collapsed and the migration from a population of hundreds of millions is beginning.

    Reply
  3. Shawn Redmond

     /  March 19, 2017

    “And one wonders if or when a dangerous and deadly follow-on of hydrogen sulfide producing microbes will begin to spread up from the bottom regions of these oxygen starved waters.” How much of a chance does this really have of happening?! I know there is a some evidence of this happening occasionally off western Africa, Namibia or Angola?, but I thought that had some tectonic/ volcanic involvement to help the right conditions manifest.

    Reply
    • It happened in the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, off the coast of Oregon, in the lower regions of the Chesapeake Bay, and in the Baltic Sea. Low oxygen, high nutrients and you eventually get hydrogen sulfide at the bottom zone and in a rising chemocline. You’ll tend to see more and more of this as the oceans warm and become more stratified.

      This is not the same as a Canfield Ocean but it is a movement toward that more deadly state which is still far off. What we are seeing now is seriously declining ocean health.

      Reply
    • For reference, take a look at this Live Science article 8-10 para just past the middle:

      http://www.livescience.com/15341-dead-zone-gulf-mexico-hypoxia-floodsdead-zone-gulf-mexico-hypoxia-floods.html

      Reply
      • Shawn Redmond

         /  March 19, 2017

        Thanks Robert, when H2S is one of the toxins would it be readily noticeable in a lab testing the carcass?

        Reply
        • If you knew what to look for and had the right test, yes.

          In the environment, the main signal is a rotten eggs smell.

        • mulga mumblebrain

           /  March 21, 2017

          Shawn, look up the Bogle-Chandler case, in Sydney in the early 1960s. The mysterious deaths of a couple struck down in ‘flagrante delicto’ in a park near a heavily polluted river. The detective work was interesting, in the end, after they tried cone-shell poison and other exotics as possible toxins.

    • Erik Frederiksen

       /  March 20, 2017

      Here’s a link to a paper in Geology titled “Massive release of hydrogen sulfide to the surface ocean and atmosphere during intervals of oceanic anoxia”
      http://geology.gsapubs.org/content/33/5/397.full

      Reply
  4. Andy_in_SD

     /  March 19, 2017

    I saw last week, same thing happening in New Zealand.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/agribusiness/65340966/fluorescent-algal-bloom-gives-waves-an-eerie-glow

    And also Hong Kong as well.

    Reply
  5. Andy_in_SD

     /  March 19, 2017

    Bit early in the year for this isn’t it?

    Colorado wildfire scorches woodland, at least 1,000 people evacuated

    http://www.reuters.com/article/us-colorado-wildfire-idUSKBN16Q0WB

    Reply
    • Yes. And good eye there, Andy.

      Reply
    • Syd Bridges

       /  March 20, 2017

      I left northern Colorado early this month for a few weeks back in England (health and dental care!). The area east of the Front Range has been dry for months and so far there has been little snow. Often, the late, heavy, wet snows of April and May make up for light snow earlier on, but in 2012 it was very dry and the High Park fire (87,000 acres) forced us to evacuate for about 3 weeks. Without those late snows, we are likely to be looking at a rerun of 2012. The same is looking likely with the Arctic ice, which also seems poised to give 2012 a run for its money.

      Reply
  6. Andy_in_SD

     /  March 19, 2017

    Toxic algae blooms in New Zealand (like what we’re seeing here in the summers now as well)

    Lake Tutira turns toxic

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/hawkes-bay-today/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503462&objectid=11798476

    Reply
  7. Cate

     /  March 19, 2017

    And the Arctic is acidifying.

    https://www.udel.edu/udaily/2017/february/arctic-acidification/

    “The research shows that, between the 1990s and 2010, acidified waters expanded northward approximately 300 nautical miles from the Chukchi slope off the coast of northwestern Alaska to just below the North Pole. Also, the depth of acidified waters was found to have increased, from approximately 325 feet to over 800 feet (or from 100 to 250 meters)….“The rapid spread of ocean acidification in the western Arctic has implications for marine life, particularly clams, mussels and tiny sea snails that may have difficulty building or maintaining their shells in increasingly acidified waters,” said Richard Feely, NOAA senior scientist and a co-author of the research. Sea snails called pteropods are part of the Arctic food web and important to the diet of salmon and herring. Their decline could affect the larger marine ecosystem.”

    Reply
    • mulga mumblebrain

       /  March 20, 2017

      Cate, I saw a report on NHK TV while in Hanoi in late 2012, where a Japanese scientist reported exactly that. They had found pteropods were becoming incapable of forming proper shells because of acidification, and showed pictures of some very weirdly distorted specimens. I often think that the worst form of ‘fake news’ is suppressed news, and ignored catastrophes.

      Reply
  8. Suzanne

     /  March 19, 2017

    This is O.T. so it might not pass the muster, but I just had to share it…as I just got back from another protest of 45 as he was leaving another…3 million dollar golf weekend vacation on the taxpayers dime. Look at the cuts to EPA…but he is wasting millions and millions on these vacations…and that isn’t even counting the extra millions being spent on his wife and son in NYC..and his adult children getting Secret Service protection as they travel around the world. I am so absolutely angry about this I can’t even articulate my anger.
    Here is Cabaret couple from San Francisco who are performing an Anti-Trump song they wrote…that at least might make us all smile and remind us we are not alone when it comes to our utter disdain of 45:

    Reply
    • wharf rat

       /  March 20, 2017

      Are you in here?

      Reply
      • Suzanne

         /  March 20, 2017

        That was a small group that showed up Friday when the Lunatic…came in..to town for the 5 time in 7 weeks!!! At 3 million dollars each time he shows up.
        I was part of a much bigger group (including the LIAR protesters) that showed up yesterday when the Lunatic left. Probably 100-200 protesters..
        If you go to South Florida Activism on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pg/SouthFloridaActivism/posts/ You can find some pictures.

        Reply
        • Thanks for all the work you do, Suzanne. So important!

        • Suzanne

           /  March 20, 2017

          Thanks Robert. Right now I am trying to “network” all the Environmental subgroups that are part of the grassroots organizations that have formed since November. I have SIX local groups (so far!)..all doing Environmental focus issues. Just trying to get us all on the same page with networking. It has been encouraging to see so many people energized, however, the important thing will to be keep people working together….That is my goal. This is turning into my new “unpaid” full time job…LOL.

        • Such essential effort, Suzanne. You’ve got your own campaign underway.

        • mulga mumblebrain

           /  March 21, 2017

          Top job, Suzanne-more power to your arm!

        • Nice work, Suzanne!

  9. Erik Frederiksen

     /  March 20, 2017

    “The fish are migrating. They can’t get enough air here.”

    We are creating an ocean filled with nothing but jellyfish and microbes. Future generations will wonder what a grouper or an oyster tasted like.

    So sad.

    Reply
    • mulga mumblebrain

       /  March 20, 2017

      Erik, what ‘future generations’? Of jellyfish?

      Reply
      • bostonblorp

         /  March 20, 2017

        I cringe inside when I see pregnant women for I fear for what that child will live to see. Sometimes I think this means I need counseling, other times I think it means I’m just paying attention.

        Reply
  10. coloradobob

     /  March 20, 2017

    The Climate Change Channel. A web based show by us everyday.

    This has power, We’ll need funds
    Get to work kids

    Reply
  11. unnaturalfx

     /  March 20, 2017

    Heres some info on these little critters , shows there charts of habitat , or at least the way it was :Encyclopedia of life ..http://eol.org/pages/901153/details .

    Reply
  12. coloradobob

     /  March 20, 2017

    The Climate Change Channel. A web based show by us everyday.

    At some point , good things grow. Otherwise my liver explodes . You are not a goof ball writer. DTL is really dead.

    Open the Climate Change Channel.

    Trust me we can raise this cash,

    I was a soldier in your ship of fools, The Climate Change Channel.

    Reply
  13. JessNZ

     /  March 20, 2017

    This phenomenon was known to sailors as a ‘Milk Sea’, and was described by Frank Bullen in ‘The Cruise of the Cachalot’. It was considered a rare and wonderful thing. We sailed through it off Oman in 1989 and were fascinated. Sad that it’s become another agent of devastation.

    Reply
  14. coloradobob

     /  March 20, 2017

    RS ;

    You have thousands of readers. So we can change the world ?

    I offer Climate the and meanness morons , They hate my guts.

    Now, let all change the the world. . Not this old idea.

    Let’s us all

    Shoot BOB in fore head because he is a fool.

    Reply
    • Well, I’d like to. But I’d need to spend a year or two going after capital to fund it.

      Reply
      • Abel Adamski

         /  March 20, 2017

        Maybe a collaboration with Peter Sinclair and some others with all the different skills , backgrounds and connections

        Reply
        • I honestly think that Peter would be very well suited for it. His ‘This is not Cool’ series is fantastic.

  15. Erik Frederiksen

     /  March 20, 2017

    Ocean heat content presents a problem for corals in that the Earth’s energy imbalance virtually guarantees significant further warming this century.

    If you’ve ever used a hot water bottle you know how water is good at holding heat and Richard Alley said it is ocean heat which controls ice sheet mass and a temperature rise of just 1 degree C is an insult to ice shelves anywhere on the planet.

    And ice shelves currently constrain about 25m of sea level rise equivalent of ice grounded below sea level.

    We have to treat this as the global emergency it’s become.

    Reply
  16. unnaturalfx

     /  March 20, 2017

    Inside climate news from a couple months ago : As oceans soak up the Earth’s excess heat, algae blooms that can have fatal implications to humans are becoming far more common, researchers show. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/22012017/climate-change-toxic-algae-oceans-west-coast-seafood .

    Reply
    • Warming generally tends to hurt life in the oceans. But we’re warming them and acidifying and pumping nutrients into them faster than ever before. So we’re basically stressing all the ocean life we rely on while giving food to the ancient life forms that are so harmful to present life.

      Reply
  17. redskylite

     /  March 20, 2017

    R.S – many thanks for all the work on this, I used to live in the gulf and Oman was my favorite haunt (by far). Humble, honest people and pristine ocean with backdrop of rocky hills, an unspoilt paradise. Sad to hear of the declining waters. I heard from a concerned climate contact N.Z’s Fox Glacier is looking in a sorry state. And it is all downhill from here.

    No comforting news from the B.B.C today either.

    Then, as the global climate warmed, the glaciers went into a fast retreat, pulling back to positions not far beyond the present coastline.

    A pulse of cooling about 15,000 years ago saw them briefly push forward, before deglaciation took hold again.

    “In the last 10,000 years the ice cap has wobbled back and forth, but never really gone out much beyond the fjords,” Dr Graham told BBC News.

    “And then in the 1950s, things seemed to go pear-shaped for South Georgia. The glaciers now are in a massive retreat, which could have quite serious implications for local ecosystems.”

    http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-39303480

    Reply
  18. unnaturalfx

     /  March 20, 2017

    One more , this is a short but great vid. on Co2 and Corals , they perform a test with shocking results . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVJBltmAfqM Being a lover of nature this just kills me

    Reply
  19. Sheri

     /  March 20, 2017

    Local NBC afgiate says Phoenix has had 8 consecutive days of record breaking temps, low to mid 90. And today it was 96 also about94 tomorrow but no broken record expected tomorrow. A lot of places in the state even in higher mountains there were records broken, too.
    A system is moving in by Tuesday and Wednesday so temps will go down to 70s and 80s.
    95 is the pint when I turn on AC since is too hot inside after that . Only turned it on today and I don’t expect to use heat again this season.

    Reply
  20. Allan Begg

     /  March 20, 2017

    I have seen these in the past 25 years ago in Tasmania 3 years ago of a night as the surf crashed at Lakes Entrance
    and a Honeymoon Bay within
    Jervis Bay about 3 years ago however they still have fish in these areas

    Reply
    • It’s an issue of prevalence and density. It takes a large, dominant bloom to produce a dead zone. That’s what’s happening in the Arabian Gulf at this time.

      It’s not that NS never bloomed before. It’s just that ocean conditions now, due to climate change, are tipping the scales toward large blooms that produce dead zones.

      In any case, I’m not the one making the claim RE the climate change link in this case (though I would make a prelim given the observational evidence), it’s the scientific researchers on the ground.

      Reply
  21. Robert E Prue

     /  March 20, 2017

    Got up to 93 here yesterday. Broke previous record of90 set in 1934. Today forcast high of 88. Normal range is 55to65. Rain would be nice.

    Reply
  22. Spike

     /  March 20, 2017

    BBC report on South georgia study by BAS. “What emerges from all this study is a story of a rapidly changing ice-scape – one that has been incredibly sensitive to really quite small changes in temperature.”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-39303480

    Reply
    • Thanks for this, Spike. One of the eye-openers for me when first starting to do research in this field was that 5 C cooling would be enough to bury New York City under ice while 5 C warming would be enough to bury it under sea level rise. That’s a really tight range. But life and ecosystems exist in much more constrained temperature zones.

      Reply
  23. Suzanne

     /  March 20, 2017

    An Editorial at the WP last night: “The Great Barrier Reef is Dying”
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-great-barrier-reef-is-dying/2017/03/19/a1e1277a-0b37-11e7-93dc-00f9bdd74ed1_story.html?hpid=hp_no-name_opinion-card-e%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

    THE MEASURED warming of the planet is not hypothetical. Nor are its effects, which are happening now, not decades from now. An ecological catastrophe is unfolding off Australia’s coast: Humans are killing the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, and there’s nothing Australians on their own can do about it. We are all responsible.

    Reply
    • Things that absolutely should be said in the mainstream press. Too bad it’s just in print. But the WaPo, Guardian, and NYT are really stepping up.

      Reply
    • unnaturalfx

       /  March 20, 2017

      We are all responsible…I so agree, When you are aware of this , when you have empathy towards all of life on earth its heartbreaking , We have had warnings from the great minds of our time , The most influential person in my life apart from my parents by far and away was the late great Carl Sagan .I recommend all of his non fiction books …Cosmos ,from the T V series,Science as a candle in the dark , last but not least Billions and Billions . Ive read them all several times . What a teacher , what a mind . Im taking the rest of the day off from the computer. Carl Sagan : When necessary we confront and challenge conventional wisdom.It is time to learn from those who have fallen before us. Our challenge is to reconcile, not after the carnage or mass murder but instead of the carnage and mass murder. It is time to fly into each other arms . It is a time to act.
      Carl Sagan .Billions and Billions – 1997 .I often ponder what he would make of the world today .

      Reply
  24. climatehawk1

     /  March 20, 2017

    Tweet scheduled.

    Reply
  25. wharf rat

     /  March 20, 2017

    Now this is what great nations do.

    Bring California Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Federal Scientists and Climate Experts

    Last week, California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) President Michael Picker handed out flyers in front of the D.C. offices of the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy. The flyers pointed to a webpage with dozens of openings at California’s PUC, Air Resources Board and Energy Commission.

    https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Bring-Your-Climate-Scientists-to-California-Says-Michael-Picker

    Thanks, Drumpf.

    Reply
    • Thanks for this. Nice to know that California is trying to provide a safe haven for these scientists impacted by Trump’s war on environmental and climate research, knowledge and understanding. They’re trying to put out the lights and luminaries. But at least there are some keeping them on.

      Reply
  26. wharf rat

     /  March 20, 2017

    Teens Suing U.S. Over Climate Change Ask for Exxon’s ‘Wayne Tracker’ Emails

    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Lawyers for a group of teenagers suing the U.S. government in a climate change case have asked the government and the oil industry’s leading trade group to turn over emails sent and received by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson using an alias address while he was running Exxon Mobil.
    https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2017-03-20/teens-suing-us-over-climate-change-ask-for-exxons-wayne-tracker-emails%5Dusnews.com

    Reply

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