Scientists say warming ocean temperatures mean Oregon’s coastal waters now have a low-oxygen season, or hypoxia season, just as the state’s forests have a fire season.
Hypoxia is a condition in which the ocean water close to the sea floor has such low levels of dissolved oxygen that the organisms living down there die.
Some of the first signs came in 2002 when dead crabs were hauled up in crab pots. Since then, scientists and crabbers say things have worsened.
“We can now say that Oregon has a hypoxia season much like the wildfire season,” said Francis Chan, co-chair of the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel.
“Every summer we live on the knife’s edge and during many years we cross the threshold into danger – including the past two years. When oxygen levels get low enough, many marine organisms who are place-bound, or cannot move away rapidly enough, die of oxygen starvation,” he said.
“Hypoxia is something we rarely saw throughout the 20th century, but have seen almost annually since the year 2002.”
The low-oxygen conditions are caused by warmer ocean temperatures. Those trigger excessive phytoplankton blooms, and when those organisms die they sink to the ocean bottom and suck the oxygen out of the water.
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