Friday March 24, 2023

San Francisco Chronicle

A historic ocean heat wave that ended seven years ago is still creating reverberations along the California coast by decimating large swaths of kelp forest in the Monterey Peninsula, an area famous for its sea otters floating in kelp beds along the shore, new research shows. 

The massive marine heat wave of 2014-2016 caused kelp forests in the Monterey area to decline by 80% between 2014 and 2021, according to a study published Thursday that looked at the impact of the event along much of the West Coast. The results show the long-lasting impact of even brief periods of ocean warming, which are increasing with climate change.

Historically, “Monterey has consistently just been persistent kelp forest. Every summer there’s a lot of kelp around the Peninsula, and every winter there’s big waves that take it out, ” said Tom Bell, an assistant scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and lead author of the study. In Monterey, “We saw some declines during the heat wave, which was more or less expected,” he said. “But then we saw that it kept getting worse after the heat wave.”

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