The Blob was the early manifestation of the Northeast Pacific marine heat wave from 2013 to 2016. While the upper ocean temperature in the Blob has been well described, the impacts on marine biogeochemistry have not been fully studied. Here, we characterize and develop understanding of Eastern North Pacific upper ocean biogeochemical properties during the Winter of 2013–2014 using in situ observations, an observation-based product, and reconstructions from a collection of ocean models. We find that the Blob is associated with significant upper ocean biogeochemical anomalies: A 5% increase in aragonite saturation state (temporary reprieve of ocean acidification) and a 3% decrease in oxygen concentration (enhanced deoxygenation). Anomalous advection and mixing drive the aragonite saturation anomaly, while anomalous heating and air-sea gas exchange drive the oxygen anomaly. Marine heatwaves do not necessarily serve as an analog for future change as they may enhance or mitigate long-term trends.
The North Pacific Blob had a distinct biogeochemical signature that is captured by observations and multiple ocean models
The Blob was characterized by anomalously high aragonite saturation states and anomalously low oxygen concentrations
The biogeochemical signature of the Blob was driven by changes in temperature and physical ocean circulation processes
Plain Language Summary
The global ocean is experiencing major changes due to human-made carbon emissions and climate change, leading to a warming ocean with increasing acidity and declining oxygen. On top of these long-term changes in the ocean are short-term extreme events, such as marine heatwaves. These extreme events quickly change the ocean state and can stress marine ecosystems in multiple ways. The Northeast Pacific marine heat wave (2013–2016) was one such marine heatwave. Here we focus on the early portion of this marine heatwave, called the Blob. While the ocean temperature changes during the event are well understood, the effects on ocean biogeochemistry have not been fully examined. In this study, we use an earth system model that accurately simulates the Blob to examine short-term changes in oxygen and acidity. We find that the warming signal leads to a decline in the effects of ocean acidification, mainly due to changes in the movement of carbon, and lowers the amount of oxygen, due primarily to temperature-driven effects. These results suggest that some effects of climate change may be exacerbated (warming) or mitigated (ocean acidification) by marine heatwaves.
Anthropogenic climate change is leading to simultaneous warming, deoxygenation, and acidification stress on marine ecosystems (Bopp et al., 2013; Doney et al., 2009; Kwiatkowski et al., 2020). The North Pacific Ocean is particularly vulnerable to the effects of ocean acidification and deoxygenation, owing to the naturally high concentrations of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and naturally low oxygen concentrations that occur here (Keeling et al., 2010; Levin, 2018; Ono et al., 2019). On top of these long-term changes in ocean state are short-term extreme events defined by rapid disruptions such as marine heatwaves, which also likely have biogeochemical signatures (Bopp et al., 2013; Frölicher & Laufkötter, 2018). The North Pacific is thus especially threatened by these ecosystem multi-stressor or compound extreme events.
A strong marine heatwave known as “the Blob” appeared in the open Gulf of Alaska (GOA) in the winter of 2013–2014, driven by an anomalous high pressure ridge (Bif et al., 2019; Bond et al., 2015; Di Lorenzo & Mantua, 2016). The anomalous high pressure system was associated with a significant decline in local wind speed, decreasing the mixing of deep, cold waters to the surface and raising sea surface temperatures (Bond et al., 2015; Scannell et al., 2020). Di Lorenzo and Mantua (2016) proposed that the initial manifestation of the Blob (winter 2014) mapped onto the pattern of the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation (NGPGO; Di Lorenzo et al., 2008) in the open Gulf of Alaska (GOA) and transitioned to a Pacifical Decadal Oscilliation (PDO)-like pattern in the winter of 2015 due to tropical and extra-tropical teleconnections related to El Niño-Southern Oscillation (PDO; Mantua et al., 1997). This climatic transition transformed the strong marine heatwave from a circle-like manifestation in the open Gulf of Alaska (GOA) (the Blob) to an arc-shaped pattern along the coast that intersected with the California Current System (Di Lorenzo & Mantua, 2016).
While the temperature features of the marine heatwave have been well studied, only a few studies have discussed the associated ocean biogeochemical properties. At the basin scale, the marine heatwave has been connected to decreases in net community production and subarctic and subpolar transition zone productivity (Bif et al., 2019; Whitney, 2015), increases in particulate organic carbon concentration and net primary productivity (Long et al., 2021; Yu et al., 2019), and changes to northeast Pacific fish stocks (Cheung & Frölicher, 2020). Coastal biogeochemical impacts of the marine heatwave include anomalously low chlorophyll concentrations off the coast of Southern California (Jacox et al., 2016; Kahru et al., 2018), anomalously high surface ocean partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) off the coast of Washington state (Siedlecki et al., 2016), and anomalously high aragonite saturation states (Ωarag) off the coast of Alaska (Siedlecki et al., 2016). While these studies suggest basin-wide and/or coastal impacts of the marine heatwave on individual ocean biogeochemical parameters, no study has comprehensively analyzed multiple biogeochemical parameters in the open GOA (the Blob), during the most intense temperature anomaly in the winter of 2013–2014.
Here, we characterize the biogeochemistry of the North Pacific Blob in the open GOA during the winter of 2013–2014, at the location and time of the most intense surface temperature anomaly. We use a collection of ocean observations and model output to quantify carbonate chemistry and oxygen anomalies in the surface ocean and attribute them to anomalous physical forcing of the coupled air-sea system. Our results demonstrate that this region's response to the Blob was characterized by a relief of ocean acidification (i.e., anomalously high aragonite saturation states), but an intensification of deoxygenation.
2.1 Ocean Model Reconstructions
Our primary numerical tool is a historical reconstruction of the ocean physical and biogeochemical state generated by a Forced Ocean-Sea Ice (FOSI) configuration of the Community Earth System Model (CESM). Community Earth System Model (CESM) Forced Ocean-Sea Ice (FOSI) consists of coupled ocean and sea ice components of CESM1.1 forced with historical (1948–2017) atmospheric state and flux fields from the Coordinated Ocean-Ice Reference Experiment data set. This configuration of Community Earth System Model (CESM) has been shown to reproduce key aspects of observed ocean variability (Yeager et al., 2018). CESM1.1 simulates the ocean at 1° × 1° resolution with 60 vertical levels using version 2 of the Parallel Ocean Program with an explicit rendering of marine biogeochemistry from the Biogeochemistry Elemental Cycle (BEC) model (Moore et al., 2001, 2004, 2013). Biogeochemistry Elemental Cycle (BEC) includes three explicit phytoplankton functional groups (diatoms, diazotrophs, and picophytoplankton) and one implicit group (calcifiers) along with one group of zooplankton (Moore et al., 2004). Biogeochemistry Elemental Cycle (BEC) also includes multiple nutrient limitations (N, P, Si, Fe) and a fully realized marine carbonate system (Moore et al., 2001, 2004, 2013). CESM Forced Ocean-Sea Ice (FOSI) produces physical and biogeochemical output on monthly timescales.
OceanSODA-ETHZ was developed by interpolating surface pCO2 from the Surface Ocean CO2 Atlas (SOCAT; Bakker et al., 2016) and Alk from the Global Ocean Data Analysis Project (GLODAP2; Olsen et al., 2019) observations with the Geospatial Random Cluster Ensemble Regression (GRaCER) method (Gregor & Gruber, 2021). This product accurately reproduces the full ocean carbonate system (Gregor & Gruber, 2021).
2.3 Data Analysis
All model output was regridded to a regular 1° × 1° grid using the Climate Data Operator (Schulzweida, 2020). The seasonal climatology was removed from all data and a second order polynomial fit was used to detrend the anomalies (as atmospheric CO2 time series are approximated by a second order polynomial). The winter manifestation of the Blob (January-February 2014) was compared to a base period (January-February 1985–2010) to determine the magnitude of the anomalies. Blob signals are deemed significantly different than the base period if they exceed two-standard deviations (95% confidence interval for a normal distribution).
The Blob period (2013–2016) is characterized by anomalously warm sea surface temperatures (SSTs), anomalously high surface ocean Ωarag and anomalously low surface oxygen concentrations in the Northeast Pacific Ocean (Figure 1, Figures S1 and S2 in Supporting Information S1, Table S3 in Supporting Information S1). These biogeochemical anomalies accompany the warm SST anomalies as the Blob evolves in space and time (Figures S3–S5 in Supporting Information S1). In-situ observations from the Papa buoy show the development of the Blob SST signature near the beginning of 2014, with a rapid increase of ∼2°C (Figure 1b). The Papa buoy recorded a ∼0.1 increase in Ωarag and a ∼4–5 mmol O2 m−3 decrease in oxygen concentration in late 2013 (Figures 1d and S1 in Supporting Information S1). Unfortunately, a large gap in the buoy observational record precludes a quantification of the observed Ωarag anomalies in the open GOA at the peak of the Blob in the winter of 2013–2014 (Figures 1b–1d).
The positive Blob anomaly in surface Ωaragonite spans the full GOA during the winter of 2014, as illustrated by the interpolated OceanSODA ETHZ observation-based product (Figure 1c). The detrended Ωarag anomalies in January-February 2014 map onto the SST anomalies during the same period (cf. Figures 1a and 1c), indicating an important role for physical processes in driving Blob biogeochemical anomalies in the open GOA region. The temporal evolution of the SST and Ωarag anomalies from the OceanSODA ETHZ product display high correlations with Papa buoy data over 2007–2018 and suggest that the largest anomalies in SST and Ωarag occurred in January-February 2014 (order 2°C and 0.1, respectively; Figures 1b–1d).
CESM FOSI accurately recreates the physical and biogeochemical signatures of the Blob as estimated by in-situ and interpolated observations and other ocean physical-biogeochemical models. Figures 1b–1d show that FOSI captures the same timeseries anomaly in both SST (∼1°C) and Ωarag (∼0.05) during the Blob period, while Figure S1 in Supporting Information S1 shows that the Blob-associated oxygen anomaly is well captured in comparison to in-situ observations (decline of ∼4–5 mmol O2 m−3). The average anomalies in surface temperature, Ωarag, and oxygen over the full Blob period (July 2013-June 2016) at the location of the Papa buoy are of similar magnitude for FOSI, the interpolated reconstruction, and the buoy data (Table S1 in Supporting Information S1). In the open GOA region (black box in Figure 1) during the winter of 2013–2014, the FOSI reconstruction again produces anomalies similar to those in the observation-based product (Table S2 in Supporting Information S1). The magnitude and spatial extent of the surface temperature, Ωarag, and oxygen anomalies during the winter of 2014 are similar across the CESM FOSI, MRI OMIP2, and NorESM OMIP2 simulations (cf. Figures 2 and S6 in Supporting Information S1), indicating that these signatures are relatively insensitive to model structure and forcing data set. CESM FOSI accurately recreates the evolution of the Blob as described by Di Lorenzo and Mantua (2016), wherein the marine heatwave begins in the open GOA before shifting to an arc-shaped pattern affecting the California coast Figure S2 in Supporting Information S1). The increase in Ωarag and decline in O2 during the early Blob in the GOA also occur during the arc-shaped phase of the Blob in the winter of 2014–2015.
- Note. Contributions to the anomaly in surface [CO3] in the open GOA (box in Figure 1) during January-February 2014 relative to the base period (January-February 1985–2010) from SST, surface salinity (S), salinity normalized DIC (sDIC), salinity normalized Alk (sAlk), and freshwater dilution (fw). Units are mmol m−3. SST, sea surface temperature.
- a The linear sum of the contributions.
- b The modeled anomaly in ().
The Blob-related dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) anomalies extend from the surface to a depth of 100 m in the open GOA during January-February 2014 in CESM FOSI (Figure 3b), mirroring anomalies in potential temperature (Figure 3a). The detrended mean anomaly profile of DIC exhibits a vertical gradient of ∼15 mmol m−3 in the top 100 m, with a modest amount of interannual variation (Figure 3b). During the winter of 2014, DIC decreases significantly through the upper 100 m in the open GOA box, with nearly equal declines at every depth level. Thus, to develop a clear understanding of the Blob-induced changes in DIC, we need to consider the integrated DIC budget in the upper 100 m and the processes that affect DIC change here.
Upper ocean Blob DIC anomalies are primarily driven by changes in circulation processes, with biological and air-sea fluxes playing less important roles (Figure 4a). The black text in Figure 4a indicates the rate of change of DIC, as well as the fluxes of DIC into/out of the Blob region driven by air-sea, circulation, and biological fluxes during a typical January-February period. DIC in the top 100 m in the open GOA tends to increase in the winter months ( 5.8 ± 3.1 mol C m−2 yr−1), driven almost entirely by the tendency of circulation to advect and mix DIC vertically and laterally into the region (4.6 ± 3.2 mol C m−2 yr−1), with air-sea flux and biological remineralization adding slightly to this tendency (Figure 4a). We group all physical tendency terms for biogeochemical variables into a single category called “circulation,” which refers to the sum of all advective, mixing, and diffusive processes that influence biogeochemical tracer transport in the model, including parameterized circulation. During the winter of 2013–2014, changes in the circulation tendency reduced the supply of DIC into the Blob region, which decreased the DIC concentration relative to its mean state (Figure 4a). This change in DIC circulation tendency is associated with an increase in density stratification in this region during the Blob, which is outside of typical variability at the 2σ level (Figure S8 in Supporting Information S1). The Blob also led to anomalies in biological carbon fluxes, but these were much smaller magnitude changes. These results are supportive of a stratification-driven decrease in DIC supply during the Blob in this region.
4 Conclusions and Discussion
Our research shows that the Northeast Pacific Blob was characterized by dramatic changes in regional marine biogeochemistry. In the open GOA during the winter of 2013–2014 at peak Blob SST anomalies, we found significant increases in surface ocean Ωarag and decreases in surface ocean oxygen concentrations. These biogeochemical anomalies extended to depths of 100 m and were ultimately driven by ocean stratification anomalies (in the case of Ωarag) and temperature/solubility forcing (in the case of oxygen).
These results demonstrate that marine heat waves can have strong biogeochemical signals in the open ocean. In the case of the Blob, the heat wave was associated with a temporary mitigation of acidification but an exacerbation of deoxygenation in the open GOA, aligning with Blob-associated biogeochemical anomalies in coastal regions (e.g., Siedlecki et al., 2016). While our study focused primarily on the Blob, the later arc-shaped pattern of the heatwave in the winter of 2014–2015 produced similar surface biogeochemical responses to the anomalous warming. The persistent near-surface oxygen deficit relative to the mean could result in vertical redistribution of some species within the Blob. While changes in DO values may lead to changes in species distributions (Meyer-Gutbrod et al., 2021), previous work has suggested that the effect of overall lower DO values may be less important than the rate of that change (Guo et al., 2022).
As an investigation of multiple ecosystem stressors or compound events, this study indicates that the Blob stressed the ecosystem with both high temperatures and reduced oxygen concentrations, but that organisms that perform calcification may have experienced some benefits from the event. As such, our work demonstrates that marine heatwaves do not necessarily lead to universally worse environmental conditions for sensitive marine ecosystems. These findings may also apply to marine heatwaves in other ocean basins, such as for the North Atlantic heatwave in Summer 2012 (Scannell et al., 2016). They also do not necessarily serve as analogs for future climate change, as the temporary changes induced by marine heatwaves may enhance or mitigate long-term trends, depending on the variable of interest.
These results are a promising start to understanding the multiple stressors impacting the ocean during marine heat waves which have vast impacts on marine ecosystems. Future work should investigate other marine heatwaves from an observational and modeling perspective to better understand the risks to the marine ecosystem. Newly-developed seasonal-to-decadal predictive model simulations also offer the chance to identify and predict extremes in advance, which may allow for adaptive marine resource management in the future.
This research was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NA2 0OAR4310405) and the National Science Foundation (OCE 1752724). Ocean Station Papa buoy observations are supported by the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research of NOAA, US Department of Commerce, including resources from the Global Ocean Monitoring and Observing Program and the Ocean Acidification Program. We thank the World Climate Research Program for developing CMIP6 and making model output available in the CMIP6 Archive and ETH Zurich for developing OceanSODA-ETHZ (the latter was funded by the European Commission through the COMFORT project; grant no. 820989). This is PMEL contribution 5316. We are grateful for helpful feedback from N. Mantua and two anonymous reviewers.
Data Availability Statement
The CESM simulation data analyzed in this paper are available from the project web page of the CESM Decadal Prediction Large Ensemble (http://www.cesm.ucar.edu/projects/community-projects/DPLE/). OceanSODA-ETHZ can be found at https://doi.org/10.25921/m5wx-ja34. OMIP2 model data have been generated as part of the internationally-coordinated Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6; see also GMD Special Issue: http://www.geosci-model-dev.net/special_issue590.html). The project includes simulations from about 120 global climate models and around 45 institutions and organizations worldwide—Project website: https://pcmdi.llnl.gov/CMIP6. Data from the Papa Buoy can found for oxygen (https://doi.org/10.3334/cdiac/otg.tsm_papa_145w_50n_o2_n2) and carbon (https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/data/oceans/ncei/ocads/data/0100074/).
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