Mysterious Ocean Heat 'Blob' That Killed Hundreds of Sea Creatures in 2016 Was Probably Caused by Humans

The warm ocean temperatures were deadly for many sea creatures. Francisco Vignale/MAPFRE/Volvo Ocean Race via Getty Images

In 2016 a mysterious wave of unprecedented warm waters, nicknamed "The Blob," swept through the world's oceans, causing the deaths of hundreds of sea creatures. The true cause of the natural phenomenon is still murky, but a new study found that the 2016 ocean heatwave may have been the result of human-related climate change.

The study published online in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society analyzed the underwater heatwave that occurred in the Pacific Ocean in 2016 and found that, although humans did not directly cause the heat wave, we made it 53 times more likely to happen as a result of the greenhouse effect, The Independent reported. The greenhouse effect is a natural process that warms the Earth's surface. However, humans can enhance the greenhouse effect by increasing levels of certain gases through air pollution. These gases absorb heat in our atmosphere and cause abnormally warm temperatures, Live Science reported.

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A heat wave commonly referred to as "The Blob" caused hot water to flow through the ocean, first appearing off the coast of Alaska in 2016, but also occurring in northern Australia and New Zealand. Researchers used climate models and records of sea temperatures to better understand what could have led to these strange warm waters. While the warm ocean temperatures could have occurred on their own, the study determined that human influence increased the chances of this happening by 53 percent.

"It seems all of the big ones [ocean heatwaves] in recent years have a climate change role," said study co-author Eric Oliver, an assistant professor of physical oceanography at Dalhousie University, National Geographic reported.

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The consequences of the rare warm ocean waters can be devastating. Massive numbers of fish died, unable to cope with the warming temperatures. According to The Guardian, the lack of fish, in turn, caused sea birds to starve and drop out of the sky, while emaciated ocean mammals washed on shore due to lack of food sources. Some species, such as rock fish, saw strange population booms.

The warm waters were especially detrimental to the already vulnerable coral reefs in the northern Pacific. According to Scientific American, corals, which are actually tiny living creatures, become stressed out and will eject the colorful algae that they live with when they become overheated. As a result this can "bleach" the color reefs, causing them to lose their vibrant colors and become dull white skeletons. This occurred in 2016 as a result of The Blob and was the third time that there has ever been a global coral reef bleaching event, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported.

Although the study cannot say for certain that human influence helped contribute to the warm waters seen in The Blob, the science strongly suggests this may be the case. If these results are true, it may mean that warm water events could recur regularly and cause even more ocean deaths in years to come.