Scientist Warns of Spreading 'Dead Zones' That Kill All Sea Creatures

Francis Chan, an Oregon State University biologist, began his scientific career as a postdoctoral researcher while preparing for his first research cruise off Oregon's coast. He received a call that took him on a completely different journey.Strange occurrences were being reported by fishermen. The fishermen were pulling up dead crabs pot by pot, and an octopus was climbing up the ropes of the fisherman to escape something they couldn't see. Chan was asked by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to search for any obvious culprits, such as an oil spillage or red tide.He realized the problem only after he placed underwater sensors in the region. The levels of dissolved oxygen had dropped to dangerous levels and sea creatures were fleeing. The ocean floor was left with a mass graveyard of those who couldn't survive.Chan went back into the archives to verify if this had ever occurred before. He found out that these low oxygen zones, now known as hypoxic zone, didn't happen so close to shore.AdvertisementAdvertisementChan stated that it returned again the following year and again the year thereafter.Every summer, a hypoxic area forms off the coast Oregon. It is actually right now. The Washington Post reported last month, that deadly waters now cover 7,700 miles. They actually began to form earlier this year. This is a clear indicator of how climate change has severely altered the ocean and rendered parts of it hostile to life.Chan identifies two key factors that lead to hypoxic zones.The basic chemistry dictates which one. Cold water cannot store as much dissolved gases as warm water. He explains that water that eventually reaches the West Coast of the United States travels around Japan before it sinks into the ocean. Chan discovered that water has been losing oxygen over the past five decades due to rising global temperatures.AdvertisementAdvertisementAnother lever is currents and wind patterns. These have been affected by the changing global environment. An upwelling wind, a gust of water that blows away from the shore, hits a low-oxygen area and creates a hypoxic zone. These conditions tend to occur around clearly identifiable geographic features such as areas with flat, shallower, continental shelves. However, hypoxic conditions may still be present regardless of geography and will likely increase along the coast as temperatures rise.Chan explained to Futursim that we know climate change pulls these two levers. We are just now seeing the consequences. With some hesitation, I believe I am saying that the science is pointing to an ocean more susceptible to hypoxia episodes, not just along the coast of Oregon.Crabs can crawl into fishers pots like normal, but then Chan made a loud wooshing sound on Zoom and was overtaken by dangerously hypoxic waters, which suffocates them. He caught flounder and other seafloor-dwelling fish near the surface. They were trying to escape to oxygen-rich environments.Chan has told Chan that fishers rush to the bay when he talks about a new hypoxic area to catch crabs fleeing for oxygen refuge. He said that in South Africa, hypoxic zones can often get so severe that lobsters drowning in the water will actually swim out to the shore.AdvertisementAdvertisementAs the climate changes and the temperatures rise, more hypoxic zones (commonly referred to as dead areas) will be visible off the coast of the Pacific. Chan predicts that they will be more severe, longer-lasting and larger when they do. Chan said that scientists have already identified areas of abnormally low oxygen along the coast of California. These readings are alarmingly similar with those from Portland years ago.Chan stated that there are only a few hypoxic events reported in California right now. It looks like Oregon was once where oxygen levels were low, but not too low. It is really ready for it. What would happen if you supercharged the levers that cause hypoxia in California. Are there more hypoxic areas and more intense hypoxic areas? It seems unlikely.It is not easy to track these events even though Chan and other scientists have an excellent sense of where they will appear each year. Despite Chan's remarkable career, sensors are still very expensive and require technical training. They must be placed in one piece in the ocean. This is why researchers rely heavily on partnerships with commercial fishers and government agencies.Chan says that researchers face a challenge now because Chan and his colleagues do not have a good understanding of hypoxic zones, their formation, and where they can be expected. They also need to know how to measure oxygen solubility. They don't fully understand the implications of being in a hypoxic area for aquatic life.AdvertisementAdvertisementAlthough we are receiving data in real-time and it is easy to understand biological thresholds (e.g., how low is low) Chan stated. If it is 1.4 mg [of oxygen]/liter [of water] over the next 18 weeks, as it has been, then its like How long can fish hold their breath? "Acidification is another major ecological threat to the oceans. Ocean acidification scientists have an extremely tangible biomarker that allows them to understand the effects of the larger ecological phenomenon on specific sea creatures, such as dissolved shark scales and crab shells.Chan explained that there is no biological measurement Chan and his colleagues can use to determine the biological thresholds for organisms under oxygen stress. However, they are working to find one.Chan stated that we are currently looking at new assays, rather than saying that the fish isn't so healthy. Is it hypoxia? Could it be that the fish was born to the wrong mother? To determine, for instance, if certain oxygen stress chemicals accumulate in an organism we can attribute hypoxia, we are looking at targeted assays.AdvertisementAdvertisementChan also stated that scientists have no idea of the number of fish in the ocean. Counting them will require manual labor, which Chan doesn't want to do, as well as unproven technologies like acoustic survey, AI that analyzes video feeds or free-floating eDNA from animals that pass through an area he claims technically shows promise, but cannot deliver any useful results.Chan wanted to convey that, despite the grim reality of the situation Chan was trying to make it clear that he doesn't want anyone to use the term "dead zone".Chan claims that he was on another expedition a few weeks back, many years after the desperate octopus tried to escape the deadly waters below. The sensors of Chan were located near the seafloor and recorded a fatal hypoxic event. The crew was also busy at the surface watching numerous salmon leap into the air and swimming around.Futurism reported that the captain had seen a blue whale. It's a very vibrant ocean, you know.AdvertisementAdvertisementLearn more about hypoxic zones. Scientists are horrified by growing dead zone in the ocean