Plankton levels have dropped precipitously

For reasons that mystify scientists, ocean temperatures are rising, which is killing off the plankton. As a result, animals higher on the food chain are facing mass starvation.

Picture 9

"Something big is going on out there," said Julia Parrish, an associate professor in the School of Aquatic Fisheries and Sciences at the University of Washington. "I'm left with no obvious smoking gun, but birds are a good signal because they feed high up on the food chain."

This spring, scientists reported a record number of dead seabirds washed up on beaches along the Pacific Coast, from central California to British Columbia.

In Washington state, the highest numbers of dead seabirds – particularly Brandt's cormorants and common murres – were found along the southern coast at Ocean Shores.

Bird surveyors in May typically find an average of one dead Brandt's cormorant every 34 miles of beach. But this year, cormorant deaths averaged one every eight-tenths of a mile, according to data gathered by volunteers with the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, which Parrish has directed since 2000.

"This is somewhere between five and 10 times the highest number of bird deaths we've seen before," she said.


Reader comment: Antoine Charvet says: "You should read this Wired article that describes this "Ecohacker" Michael Markels who proposes dumping iron filings into the world's oceans to create plankton blooms and sequester CO2 as well as provide food for the world from the resulting fish that feed on this stuff!"