From: Terence Chea, Associated Press
Published August 17, 2005 12:00 AM

Pacific Coast Ecosystems Return to Normal after Winds Arrive Late

SAN FRANCISCO — The northerly winds that sustain the Pacific Coast's marine ecosystems have returned, but their arrival came too late for fish and birds that couldn't survive the unseasonably warm waters.


William Peterson, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Newport, Oregon, who just returned from a 10-day trip Sunday, said ocean conditions have returned to normal off the coasts of California and Oregon, but it's too late for many species.


"The water is very cold and productive. It's the way we would expect it to be," Peterson said. "But the animals that depend upon the ocean being productive in the spring and the early summer are dead. It's not going to help them any."


Coastal ecosystems rely on winds blowing south to push warmer surface waters away from shore and bring up colder, nutrient-rich water from the ocean bottom that feeds massive blooms of plankton -- the tiny plant-like organisms that form the basis of the marine food web.


The winds usually start blowing in March or April, but when they didn't arrive this spring, researchers saw the effects up and down the coast -- higher ocean temperatures near the shore, very little plankton, a drop in groundfish catches and a spike in dead seabirds on beaches.


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The winds finally returned in mid-July and generated the long-delayed upwelling and a dramatic increase in plankton populations, according to researchers.


"The upwelling did come, and the whole system reversed itself," said William Cochlan, a marine ecologist at California State University, San Francisco. "We're not sure why the winds didn't come, but the situation has remarkably changed, and the ecosystems seem to be getting back to normal."


Scientists warn that the biological effects of this year's oceanic disruption could be felt for months, or years, to come.


Source: Associated Press


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