SANTA CRUZ, Calif., July 7 (UPI) -- Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say both El Niño and "The Blob" combined to diminish the biological productivity of marine ecosystems over the course of the last year, but ocean models suggest The Blob had an outsized effect, overshadowing El Niño.
Like El Niño, The Blob is a large expanse of warming ocean water. Unlike El Niño, The Blob was first identified in 2013. The expanding mass of rising sea surface temperatures persisted into 2014, 2015 and early 2016.
"Last year there was a lot of speculation about the consequences of 'The Blob' and El Niño battling it out off the U.S. West Coast," Michael Jacox, a scientists with the University of California, Santa Cruz and NOAA Fisheries' Southwest Fisheries Science Center, explained in a news release.
"We found that off California El Niño turned out to be much weaker than expected, The Blob continued to be a dominant force, and the two of them together had strongly negative impacts on marine productivity," Jacox said.
Located off the coast of California, The Blob's exceptionally warm water brought warm-water species farther north than usual and encouraged one of the largest toxic algae blooms researchers have seen in the Pacific.
"These past years have been extremely unusual off the California coast, with humpback whales closer to shore, pelagic red crabs washing up on the beaches of central California, and sportfish in higher numbers in southern California," said Elliott Hazen of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. "This paper reveals how broad scale warming influences the biology directly off our shores."
Large masses of warm water stifle normal climate and marine patterns -- currents and winds that drive biological cycles and encourage the movement of nutrients that generate photosynthesis and fuel food chains.
"Now, both The Blob and El Niño are on their way out, but in their wake lies a heavily disrupted ecosystem," Jacox said.
Researchers published their analysis of the two ocean systems this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.