Ocean conditions are playing tricks on Hood Canal

Hood Canal continues to baffle us humans with scenarios that we have never seen before, as I outline in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun. The canal’s latest failing is to forget that, by this time of year, there is supposed to be a layer of dense, oxygenated water lying on the bottom.

I’m being facetious, of course, about how the canal is “supposed to” behave. The fact that researchers are seeing something for the first time in Hood Canal does not mean it has never occurred before. And the fact that natural conditions can be highly variable does not mean that human inputs of nitrogen have no influence over the life or death of sea creatures.

As it has been explained to me, in years when natural conditions push Hood Canal close to the danger zone, human factors can push it over the edge. So limiting nitrogen flowing into the canal can make a real difference, especially in years when natural factors gang up to deplete the oxygen supply.

As I explained in some detail in today’s story, conditions in Hood Canal the past 18 months have been interesting to watch. Early in 2009, the average dissolved oxygen in the canal was near record highs, then the level dropped rapidly to measurements at or below what is normally seen in the fall. Over the winter, the levels never came back up — which is something never observed before. Now the levels are beginning to drop again, and we don’t know how low they will go.

What is encouraging about all the monitoring and studies conducted the past few years is that we can actually measure what is happening in real time, and we are in a better position to explain why the canal is responding as it does. Now if only we could predict the weather and ocean conditions, which seem to have a mind of their own …

3 thoughts on “Ocean conditions are playing tricks on Hood Canal

  1. Let’s get real. The canal is a bed of mud which at one time had seaweed and some growth on its bottom. Dragnets and commercial diving for geoducks help destroy what little oxygen producing life their was.
    Instead of spending millions on studies, action should be taken to build underwater reefs. Sealife needs to have platforms to grow on to energize oxygen level in the sound.
    Life on the bottom of the sound is only in the small areas which have small rock formations.
    Stop the million dollar studies and drop some rocks to the bottom of the sound.

  2. Chris, I heard that this year, the low oxygen was linked to the lack of summer storms, which normally push oxygen rich water through freshwater inputs (rainwater flooded streams, runoff) and move it through the estuary (canal) via wave/wind action. Heard anything like that?

  3. I heard a report on television that seemed to be a result of someone shortening and simplifying my story. While storms can oxygenate the waters at the surface, the really unusual thing this year is the lack of a dense, oxygenated layer at the bottom of Hood Canal. This normally occurs when heavier sea water comes in from ocean and spills over the sill south of the Hood Canal bridge.

    We’ve had enough rain lately to bring oxygenated water into the canal, but this fresh water tends to stay at the surface. Also it may contain excess nutrients, which will feed into algae blooms when sunny days finally arrive.

    Nobody is going out on a limb to make predictions, but researchers should be able to measure various effects as oxygen levels drop from now until fall. If anyone involved in the Hood Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program would like to add to this, please post a comment or send me an e-mail.

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