Widespread and increasing near-bottom hypoxia in the coastal ocean off the United States Pacific Northwest

Publication date
February 15, 2024
John A. Barth, Stephen D. Pierce, Brendan R. Carter, Francis Chan, Anatoli Y. Erofeev, Jennifer L. Fisher, Richard A. Feely, Kym C. Jacobson, Aimee A. Keller, Cheryl A. Morgan, John E. Pohl, Leif K. Rasmuson, Victor Simon

The 2021 summer upwelling season off the United States Pacific Northwest coast was unusually strong leading to widespread near-bottom, low-oxygen waters. During summer 2021, an unprecedented number of ship- and underwater glider-based measurements of dissolved oxygen were made in this region. Near-bottom hypoxia, that is dissolved oxygen less than 61 µmol kg−1 and harmful to marine animals, was observed over nearly half of the continental shelf inshore of the 200-m isobath, covering 15,500 square kilometers. A mid-shelf ribbon with near-bottom, dissolved oxygen less than 50 µmol kg−1 extended for 450 km off north-central Oregon and Washington. Spatial patterns in near-bottom oxygen are related to the continental shelf width and other features of the region. Maps of near-bottom oxygen since 1950 show a consistent trend toward lower oxygen levels over time. The fraction of near-bottom water inshore of the 200-m isobath that is hypoxic on average during the summer upwelling season increases over time from nearly absent (2%) in 1950–1980, to 24% in 2009–2018, compared with 56% during the anomalously strong upwelling conditions in 2021. Widespread and increasing near-bottom hypoxia is consistent with increased upwelling-favorable wind forcing under climate change.

Scientific Reports
California Current