UW News

July 29, 2015

‘Odd’ Puget Sound conditions prompt multi-agency awareness day

UW News

It’s been a strange summer for Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean that feeds it. Water temperatures are warmer than usual, shellfish harvesting has been closed because of a long-lived toxic algae bloom, and oxygen levels in some areas continue to drop, meaning fish kills could be a reality this fall.

Washington's northwest coast, June 2015.

Washington’s northwest coast, June 2015.University of Washington

Local scientists from multiple agencies and organizations have been tracking these unusual trends for the past several months. They now say it’s time for the general public to understand that Puget Sound, and the life it supports, is stressed.

UW researchers on Thursday will join scientists from the Washington State Department of Ecology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, King County and others to explain to reporters why they are interested in the conditions in Puget Sound, and what’s being done to monitor these changes.

“We want people to know this is a very odd year in Puget Sound,” said Jan Newton, an oceanographer with the UW Applied Physics Laboratory. “We want to communicate to the public what’s going on, and it takes all of us to tell the story fully. The goal is to get people in touch with the environment they live in.”

Scientists who all work with marine waters in various capacities will explain the current conditions observed in Puget Sound and describe efforts to monitor and record what’s happening. The event will be held at 11 a.m. at Shilshole Marina (map) in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.

NANOOS just received $75,000 from NOAA to study the harmful algal bloom along the West Coast.

Newton, who also directs the UW-based Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems, or NANOOS, will be sharing information about “the blob” and its effects on Puget Sound. She also will highlight how the extensive observational network can relay current information about ocean conditions to a person’s computer or smartphone.

The data portal combines ocean observations from federal, state and local agencies, industry, tribes and other groups, relaying information gathered from buoys, meteorological stations, satellites, research boats and even underwater remotely operated vehicles. Data are used to track conditions and inform a number of issues, including ocean acidification, shellfish toxin levels, tsunami evacuation routes and variation in the temperature of the blob.

“One of the strengths of this network is we can give you up-to-the-minute data from the coastal ocean to the near-shore coastal areas to estuaries like Puget Sound, all from one system,” Newton said. “The immediacy and the access of the data are really important.”

Nick Bond, the state climatologist and a scientist with the UW-based Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, who first identified and gave the name “blob” to the warmer-than-normal waters in the Northeast Pacific Ocean, will also participate in the media event.

Bond will provide more context as to how our local waters in Puget Sound are reflecting larger patterns offshore in the ocean.

“It’s an opportunity to learn how this system all works and the linkages between what’s going on in Puget Sound and the open waters in the North Pacific,” Bond said.

Washington Sea Grant, based at the UW, will be on hand to talk about fish research¬†and harmful algal blooms in Puget Sound. Scientists from other agencies also will be available for interviews, and there will be tours of the UW’s Clifford A. Barnes and Department of Ecology’s Skookum research vessels.

###

For more information about NANOOS, contact Newton at 206-543-9152 or newton@apl.washington.edu. For information about the media event, contact Jessica Payne with the Department of Ecology at 360-701-1220 or jessica.payne@ecy.wa.gov.