Is climate change adding risks to beachgoing? (Beware riptides, jellyfish, sharks, & the “BLOB”)

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Some items gleaned from recent news accounts suggest the question: are ocean warming and rising sea level acting as a threat multiplier for common beach hazards?

post by Anne Polansky •  comments welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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These items caught our attention:

BEWARE THE RIPTIDES

Is Sea Level Rise Making Our Beaches More Dangerous?

• An ABC affiliate in Charleston, South Carolina notices that “powerful ocean currents near our shores may on the rise” and asks if rising sea levels are the cause

•  A local lifeguard reports:  “We have noticed larger currents, stronger currents this year and more rip currents on the beach this year”— more than a dozen beach rescues of late have been attributed to larger currents
• A regional climate specialist with the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium who tracks local sea level rise has noticed that the “Lowcountry” is more susceptible to sea level rise than other places in the nation, noted that while the IPCC reported that the 20th century saw average sea level rise approximately 0.6 feet per century, in Charleston during the same period, it was more like a foot a century, based on tidal gage records going back to 1921. 

•  The worry is that a continued rise in sea level could change the sea bottom near the coast, shrinking the beach area and changing the bathymetry of ocean bottom, in turn making some areas of the beach more susceptible to rip tides. 
• The piece states the obvious:  “More information about where and how rip currents form along a changing ocean floor may keep swimmers safer in the future.”

BEWARE THE JELLYFISH

See our post of December 2007:  Non-native jellyfish wipe out salmon fishery in Northern Ireland – another warning sign?

Massachusetts Beaches Now Have to Deal with Jellyfish

•  Poisonous Portuguese men-of-war, in an unusually large invasion, stung at least 14 people in Massachusetts during the last week, prompting periodic swimming bans on Cape and Islands beaches during one of the summer’s busiest holiday weeks.

•  Local and state officials say the intermittent beach closings may continue through Thursday, as the jellyfish-like creatures continue to wash up on beaches from Westport to Nantucket. However, they believe that shifting winds should carry the strange creatures, which are more common in tropical waters, back to sea after that.

• Contact with a tentacle, which can dangle 50 feet below the surface, can bring painful welts that look like whip marks. Some people are allergic to the stings and, in extremely rare cases, they may cause anaphylactic shock, which can cause death.

BEACHES: Jellyfish stings up
Associated Press • July 12, 2009

DEWEY BEACH — The beach patrols in Dewey Beach and Rehoboth Beach say an unusually high number of people are being stung by jellyfish.

•  Dewey Beach patrol Cpt. Todd Fritchman says more than 100 people have complained of being stung in the last week. In Rehoboth Beach, Cpt. Kent Buckson says 120 people have been stung compared to the normal amount of 30 each week.

•  Normally, beach officials see a spike in mid-to-late July. But Dewey lifeguard Chris Muscara says the warmer waters are bringing the jellyfish into swimming areas earlier this year. According to Fritchman, ocean currents have likely changed, too, which is moving jellyfish into swimming areas.

Huge jellyfish lured to UK beaches by warm seas

•  People on the beaches around Banff in the Moray Firth, north of Aberdeen, have been warned to look out for giant stinging jellyfish which have been washed up in their thousands over the summer.

•  “It’s very rare to see 40cm-plus common jellyfish but the waters have been full of them over the past few weeks,” said Dr Kevin Robertson, of Scotland’s Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit. “The temperatures are very much higher in the coastal waters this year. Normally at this time of year we measure maximum temperatures of about 14 or maybe 15 degrees, but we are well into higher figures at the moment – around 17 degrees at least.  “It’s created ideal conditions for a jellyfish boom and we are seeing much larger specimens than usual as they fulfil their full growth potential.”

•  Moon jellyfish, which are by far the most common in the area, usually grow to just 10cm. The hot summer weather has also fueled the growth of the lion’s mane jellyfish, the largest to visit UK shores. Some specimens measure more than a metre in diameter.

•  The tentacles of the lion’s mane jellyfish, which is easily identified by its ragged edges, carry a nasty sting which can leave unsuspecting swimmers in pain for hours.

•  Increasing numbers of jellyfish are currently being sighted across the UK, with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) calling on visitors to the British seaside to report their observations.

Jellyfish the size of dustbin lids wash up on Scottish beaches as climate change heats up sea

•  Jellyfish up to half a metre long have been appearing on beaches in Scotland following a rise in sea temperature.

•  Holidaymakers playing on the sands around Banff in the Moray Firth north of Aberdeen have been warned to beware giant stinging jellyfish which have been washed up in their thousands this summer.

•  ‘It’s very rare to see 40cm plus common jellyfish but the waters have been full of them over the last few weeks,’ said Dr Kevin Robertson, of the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit.

•  ‘The temperatures are very much higher in the coastal waters this year. Normally at this time of year we measure maximum temperatures of about 14 or maybe 15 degrees, but we are well into higher figures at the moment - around 17 degrees at least.

•  ‘It’s created ideal conditions for a jellyfish boom and we are seeing much larger specimens than usual as they fulfil their full growth potential.’
•  Moon jellyfish, which are by far the most common in the area, only usually grow to about 10cm but the ones being found now are measuring anything up to half a metre.

•  The hot summer weather has also fuelled the growth of the lion’s mane jellyfish, the largest to visit UK shores. Some specimens have been more than a metre in diameter.
Boom: Moon jellyfish, the most common in the Moray Firth area, usually only reach 10cm but the ones being found now are measuring up to half a metre

JAWS TRAVELS TO THE ORIENT

Korean Beaches No Longer Shark-Free

By Kim Rahn
Staff Reporter

•  To Koreans, an attack by sharks as in “Jaws’’ used to be something that happened in other countries far away from here. But it may not be so now, as sharks have been seen along the coasts here in recent months.

•  The National Fisheries Research and Development Institute has warned vacationers visiting beaches to pay attention to sharks between May and September, saying the country is no longer a shark-free region.

•  The growing danger is due to rising sea temperatures and the expansion of warm currents to the peninsula. ``With the warm currents flowing toward the country, sharks’ prey such as mackerel and squid, are coming to the coast, and sharks are following them,’’ Kim Jung-nyun, a researcher at the institute, said.

BEWARE THE BLOB

(If your ocean travels take you to Alaskan waters…. watch out for the BLOB!)

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Photo courtesy North Slope Borough

Christian Science Monitor:  Giant mysterious blob found floating off Alaska coast

• Hunters on Alaska’s northern coast noticed a mass of thick, dark, viscous matter drifting in the ocean and reported it

• A helicopter reconnaissance mission discovered a “strand” 12-15 miles long of matter that has been described as “gooey,” pitch black with an indescribable odor, hairy, and able to entrap jellyfish

• Lab tests identified it as marine algae, but not like “anything anyone can recall seeing before” and scientists, at the moment, “have more questions than answers” about what it is

Time.com:  Arctic Mystery: Identifying the Great Blob of AlaskaBy Wesley Loy / Anchorage

•  A group of hunters aboard a small boat out of the tiny Alaska village of Wainwright were the first to spot what would eventually be called “the blob.” It was a dark, floating mass stretching for miles through the Chukchi Sea, a frigid and relatively shallow expanse of Arctic Ocean water between Alaska’s northwest coast and the Russian Far East. The goo was fibrous, hairy. When it touched floating ice, it looked almost black.

•  But what was it? An oil slick? Some sort of immense, amorphous organism adrift in some of the planet’s most remote waters? Maybe a worrisome sign of global climate change? Or, as folks wondered who followed from faraway via the internet, was it something insidious and, perhaps, even carnivorous like the man-eating jello from the old Steve McQueen movie?

• “We responded as if it were an oil product,” says Coast Guard Petty Officer Terry Hasenauer. “It was described to us as an oil-like substance, thick and lingering below the surface of the water. Those characteristics can indicate heavy, degraded oil, maybe crude oil, or possibly an intermediate fuel oil.” Meanwhile, the story spread over the internet like an oil-spill, giving lots of people a queasy feeling.

•  Test results released Thursday showed the blob wasn’t oil, but a plant — a massive bloom of algae. While that may seem less dangerous, a lot of people are still uneasy. It’s something the mostly Inupiat Eskimo residents along Alaska’s northern coast say they could never remember seeing before.

•  While Alaskans may find the algal blob unusual if not frightening, scientists say that algal blooms are nothing new in Arctic Ocean waters, though the blob itself might be a little weird.  Brenda Konar, a marine biology professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said algal outbreaks can and do occur even in icy Arctic waters.  It just takes the right combination of nutrients, light and water temperature, she said. .. The blob, Konar said, is a microalgae made up of “billions and billions of individuals.”

 

Wikinews:  Blob off Alaskan coast identified
Saturday, July 18, 2009

•  A ‘giant black mystery blob’ in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska has been identified as marine algae. Initially speculated to be an oil spill, the mass was discovered by a group of hunters earlier this month near Wainwright. The blob is reported to be stringy and hairy, and is tangled with jellyfish, among other debris.

•  The “thick, dark gunk” stretches for as much as 15 miles, and is moving at a slow drift. Upon being first sighted, the U.S. Coast Guard flew out to investigate the mass, and local officials collected samples for testing. Coast Guard Petty Officer Terry Hasenauer reported that “We responded as if it were an oil product. It was described to us as an oil-like substance, thick and lingering below the surface of the water. Those characteristics can indicate heavy, degraded oil, maybe crude oil, or possibly an intermediate fuel oil.”

•  Test results subsequently revealed that the blob is some sort of unusually extensive algae bloom. “It’s definitely, by the smell and the makeup of it [...] some sort of naturally occurring organic or otherwise marine organism,” Hasenauer said. The substance has remained entirely offshore.

• However, there is still great uncertainty among local residents and officials alike: “We’ve observed large blooms in the past off Barrow although none of them at all like this”, said Barry Sherr, an oceanography professor. “The fact that the locals say they’ve never seen anything like it suggests that it might represent some exotic species which has drifted into the region, perhaps as a result of global change. For the moment that’s just a guess.”

 

 

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