For the second time in three years, a hypoxic “dead zone” has formed off the central Oregon Coast. It's killing fish, crabs and other marine life and leading researchers to believe that a fundamental change may be taking place in ocean conditions in the northern Pacific Ocean.
The event appears similar to one in 2002, when an area of ocean water with low oxygen content formed in the nearshore Oregon coast between Newport and Florence, causing a massive die-off of fish and invertebrate marine species. The fact that it's happening again is triggering concern among marine scientists.
Dissolved oxygen levels are a great deal lower than those seen in the past 40 years. This is a disturbing trend with an unknown cause that scientists now say may reflect a major change in ocean circulation patterns, with serious impacts on marine biology.
“When you see the same thing happening with this regularity, it suggests that something is fundamentally different,” said Jane Lubchenco, the Valley Professor of Marine Biology at Oregon State University. “This is a significant departure from normal conditions and you have to wonder what's going on. This ocean system has changed, and we're paying attention.”
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