Mysterious Warm Blob in Pacific Wreaking Havoc

A bizarre patch of warm water is being blamed for everything from the California drought to deaths of sea lions.

A large expanse of unusually warm water in the northern Pacific Ocean continues to grow and is having a profound effect upon marine animals from Mexico to Alaska, and may be altering weather across the continent.

"The blob," a term coined by University of Washington meteorologist Nicholas Bond, who was among those who first observed it in late 2013, consists of water that is roughly around 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the typical ocean temperature.

While that may not seem like much of a difference, the circular patch of warmth, which started as a small patch of water off the coast of Alaska, has grown to 500 miles across,and is the biggest and longest-lasting temperature anomaly in the historical record.

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"Just the enormous magnitude of this anomaly is what's incredible," Art Miller, an oceanographer at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., told the San Jose Mercury News. Miller was among a group of 100 researchers who gathered recently at Scripps to discuss the phenomenon and its impacts.

Scientists aren't sure exactly what caused the blob, but they think it may have links to everything from the California drought to the large numbers of starving sea lion pups who've washed up on west coast shores.

The temperature change also has caused creatures from tropical and temperate zones to wander north into places where they're not usually found, and others that normally stay far out at sea have ventured closer to the coast, according to this Seattle Times article.

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In an article for Earth and Sky in April, Bond wrote that the blob is related to an unusual weather pattern that developed over a huge region of the Earth, extending from the northern Pacific across North America, in the fall of 2013 and early 2014.

The pattern featured a higher-than-normal pressure ridge off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, which Bond says reduced the number and intensity of storms that made landfall, and led to reduced precipitation in the western United States.

But the ridge also affected weather farther east, Bond wrote, by diverting cold Canadian air into the middle and eastern U.S., especially around the Great Lakes region.

The northern Pacific temperature anomaly known as "the blob."

If you were interested in freaky weather, 2014 had it all, including some new words for the popular lexicon: Polar vortex, lake effect snow, bomb cyclone, Snovember and, of course, the worst drought in California in 1,200 years. In this shot, a bolt of lightning hits the antenna on top of the Empire State Building on July 15 in New York City.

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An image from a NOAA satellite shows the polar vortex, the weird atmospheric twitch that flooded into the United States in early 2014, over North America.

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Steam rises from Lake Michigan toward the Chicago skyline on a day when the temperature was -18 and -43 with the wind chill. The polar vortex took the fall for this one.

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Snowfall was dramatic in 2014, but the hurricane season was notable for being unusually light. Hurricane Arthur (above in a NASA satellite photo) was the only storm to make landfall in the United States this season. The storm in July clobbered coastal North Carolina on July 4 with Category 2 winds of about 100 miles per hour, causing $21 million in damage.

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A buoy sits on dry cracked earth on a dry inlet of Shasta Lake on Aug. 30 in Lakehead, Calif. The state suffered a fourth year of one if its worst droughts on record. The drought was fueled by a spate of disappointing winter rainy seasons that have left meager snowpacks and diminished reservoir levels, combined with record-warm temperatures that have driven demand for increasingly precious water, spurring a series of conservation measures around the state.

In this image, captured in infrared light by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency's GOES-East satellite on Nov. 18, the cold air over the central and eastern United States looks like a gray-white blanket.

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More than 7 feet of snow fell on parts of Buffalo, N.Y., in part due to a weather event called lake effect snow. It's a highly localized snowfall, which appears when cold air masses move over warmer lake waters. Longtime residents described the blast of winter weather as the worst in memory.

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Australians were treated to a bizarre sight in the sky this year: a fallstreak hole, which forms from droplets in the cloud that are below freezing, but haven't yet frozen.

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In November, Super Typhoon Nuri, a massive, exceptionally violent tropical cyclone, started out near the Philippines and then barreled across the Pacific to slam into Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. One of the biggest typhoons ever to blow outside the tropics, Nuri measured about 2,000 miles across, and it whipped the U.S. Air Force installation on the island of Shemya with hurricane-force winds of up to 98 miles per hour, according to the Alaska Daily Dispatch.

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Homes are covered with rocks and mud after debris flows smashed into houses on Dec. 12., in Camarilla, Calif. A day after hitting Northern California, hurricane-force winds traveled down the coast to hit the drenched Southern California region.

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