Warming West Coast Waters Upset Food Chains

16:50 minutes

Ocean waters off the West Coast of the U.S. are hitting record temperatures—two to six degrees Fahrenheit above normal. “It’s as warm as we have ever seen it,” says NOAA climatologist Nate Mantua. “And there’s no historical precedent for it getting any warmer than that, so it’s kind of hitting its peak.” The warming pattern appears to be caused in part by a slowdown of coastal winds that bring cool, deep ocean water to the surface, delivering nutrients and cooler temperatures.

Mantua says it’s unclear whether human-caused global warming plays a role in the weird wind pattern. But regardless of the cause, warmer waters are changing the distribution of food in the Pacific, stranding hundreds of starving sea lion pups on shore, and causing the death of hundreds of thousands of birds.

Segment Guests

Shawn Johnson

Shawn Johnson is head veterinarian and director of the Veterinary Science Department at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California.

Julia Parrish

Julia Parrish is associate dean and professor at the College of the Environment at University of Washington in Seattle, Washington.

Nate Mantua

Nate Mantua is climatologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Santa Cruz, California.

Meet the Producer

About Christopher Intagliata

Christopher Intagliata was Science Friday’s senior producer. He once served as a prop in an optical illusion and speaks passable Ira Flatowese.