Extreme heat wave baked sea creatures in their shells in western Canada

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Harley is studying the effects of climate change on the ecology of rocky shores where clams, mussels and starfish live, so he wanted to see how intertidal invertebrates were undergoing the record-breaking heat wave that hit the region from June 26 to 28.

“I could smell this beach before I got there because there were already a lot of animals that had died from the day before, which wasn’t the hottest of the three,” he said. “I started to peek at my local beach and I was like, ‘Oh, that can’t be good.'”

The next day, Harley and one of his students drove to Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver, which he has been visiting for over 12 years.

“It was a disaster there,” he said. “There is a very extensive mussel bed covering the shore and most of these animals are dead.”

Unprecedented heat

The mussels attach themselves to rocks and other surfaces and are used to being exposed to air and sun at low tide, Harley said, but they usually can’t survive for long in temperatures above 100 degrees. .

Temperatures in downtown Vancouver were 98.6 degrees on June 26, 99.5 on the 27 and 101.5 on the 28.

It was even hotter on the beach.

Harley and her student used a FLIR thermal imager which found surface temperatures exceeding 125 degrees.

At this time of year, low tide hits at the hottest time of the day in the area, so animals can’t get out until the tide returns, he said. he declares.

Climate scientists called the heat wave in British Columbia and the US Pacific Northwest “unprecedented” and warned that climate change would make these events more frequent and intense.

“We saw some heat records over the weekend to be broken again the next day,” Kristina Dahl, senior climatologist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told CNN, “especially for part of the country where this kind of heat does happen very often. “

Historic Northwest Heat Wave "practically impossible"  without a man-made climate crisis, according to a study
An analysis of more than two dozen scientists at Global weather attribution found that the heat wave “would have been virtually impossible without the influence of man-made climate change.”

It was also incredibly dangerous.

Lytton, BC, broke Canada’s all-time record on June 30 when the temperature rose above 121 degrees. The city was all but destroyed in a deadly forest fire.
There were 719 deaths reported to coroners across the province between June 25 and July 1 – three times more than what would normally occur during this period, according to a statement by Lisa Lapointe, Chief Coroner of British Columbia. Hundreds of people have died in the United States and many have had to be hospitalized because of the heat.

A billion animals may have died

Harley said the heat may have killed up to a billion mussels and other sea creatures in the salish sea, which includes the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but he said that was a very preliminary estimate.

He said 50 to 100 mussels could live in an area the size of the palm of your hand, and several thousand could fit in an area the size of a stove.

“There are some 4,000 miles of shoreline in the Salish Sea, so when you start to go from what we see locally to what we expect, based on what we know where the mussels live, you get very big numbers really fast, “he said.” Then you start adding all the other species, some of which are even more abundant. “

He said he was concerned that these kinds of events seem to be happening more often.
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Brian Helmuth, professor of marine biology at Northeastern University, said mussel beds, like coral reefs, serve as an early warning system for ocean health.

“When you see schools of mussels disappearing, these are the main structuring species, so almost like trees in the forest that provide habitat for other species, so it’s really obvious when a school of mussels disappears”, he declared. “When we start to see other smaller animals die, because they move around, because they’re not that dense, it’s not that obvious.”

He said the death of a bed of mussels can cause “a cascading effect” on other species.

The two scientists said they fear these heat waves will become more frequent and they are unsure whether the mussel beds could recover.

“What worries me is if you start having heat waves like this, every 10 years instead of every 1,000 years or every five years, then that’s – you’re too hard hit, too fast to really recover, ”said Harley. “And then the ecosystem is just going to look very, very different.”



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