VANCOUVER — Scientists say a marine heat wave that blanketed a large area of the west coast has weakened, but the potential disruption to ocean life isn’t over yet.
Nate Mantua of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the “good news” is that the area of exceptionally warm water is substantially smaller now than it was earlier this year.
And while the area about 1,500 kilometres offshore between Hawaii and Alaska is still seeing high temperatures by historical standards, it is “simply not nearly as large as it was and it is no longer strong in areas near the west coast,” he said.
Scientists have been watching a marine heat wave that developed around June this year and resembled a phenomenon that was nicknamed ‘The Blob,’ which disrupted ocean life between 2014 and 2016.
The heat wave, which resembles a wedge this time, stretched from south of Vancouver Island to Baja, Calif., and offshore towards Hawaii. It raised temperatures by up to 4 C.
Mantua said “many energetic storms and unusually strong winds from the north off the west coast” have cooled surface waters back to near normal temperatures for much of the region.
“On the other hand, the offshore warming is still in place, and by historical standards, it is still a large marine heat wave,” he said in an email.
The latest climate model forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center suggest that the offshore warming will gradually weaken over the next seven months, but even by spring will still be warmer than normal, Mantua said.
Prof. Andrew Trites at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries said the marine heat wave is caused when there is not enough wind to churn and cool the water.
“This past summer winds were very, very light — not strong enough for ocean to be mixed the way it used to be in the past. As a result the ocean didn’t cool down the way it was supposed to and it’s holding its heat,” he said in a phone interview.
“It’s not that the ocean got warmer, it’s really that the ocean did not get cooler.”
As a result, some species of tropical fish that are usually seen in tropical waters were found off the west coast, he said.
“One of the fish that I saw a lot of this summer was the sunfish and presumably they are here in higher numbers because the water here was unusually warm this summer and they can tolerate warm temperatures,” Trites said.
Mantua said the most obvious impacts included a pattern of unusually low plankton production from July through September from Vancouver Island to northern California.
Warm waters near the coast of northern California, Oregon, and southern Washington brought albacore tuna closer than normal to the coast, and sport fishing was especially good there this summer, he said.
However, ocean salmon fishing in those areas was generally poor, Mantua said.
“All that said, I have not heard of any reported ecosystem impacts in those offshore waters where it remains very warm,” he said.
“I suspect that the extreme warming in the productive part of the open ocean has had some impacts, but there simply isn’t a lot of information coming from those regions aside from satellite observations of ocean colour that tell us some general information about plankton production.”
There is a chance that the marine heat wave might return, Mantua said, although he thinks “the odds for that are low, at least based on the latest climate forecasts.”
Trites said the first time this heat wave occurred about five years ago, it was thought that it would never happen again.
“So this may be an example of climate change and global warming. It is changing the patterns of air circulation and affecting storminess and it’s not going to mix the water the way it used to.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2019.
Person found dead after 5-alarm fire at Toronto apartment building
One person has been found dead after a five-alarm fire ripped through a Toronto apartment building on Friday and police say they are treating the death as suspicious.
Fire crews said the deceased person was located on an eighth-floor balcony shortly after 1 a.m.
“When we were able to achieve an upper hand on the fire, that allowed us to be a little bit more systemic in the work that we were doing,” Deputy Fire Chief Tony Bavota told reporters at the scene Saturday morning.
“Some secondary searches were conducted and some investigations, at which point a body was located on one of the balconies.”
In a tweet sent at 10:40 a.m., police said they are now treating the death as “suspicious.”
There is no word on the victim’s age or gender.
Another person was transported from the scene with serious but non-life-threatening injuries. Five others were assessed by paramedics at the scene.
Emergency crews were called to the 15-storey apartment building on Gosford Boulevard, west of Jane Street and south of Steeles Avenue West, just before 5:30 p.m. on Friday after a fire spread to several units across multiple floors.
It took firefighters more than six hours to declare the blaze was extinguished.
“It was an extremely difficult fire for our staff to fight and that was coupled with the fact that the elevators weren’t working,” Bavota said, adding that several units have “a lot” of damage.
Toronto fire Chief Matthew Pegg said in a tweet Saturday that the “comprehensive investigation” into exactly where the fire started, what caused it and the circumstances contributing to its spread and growth is continuing.
Inspectors have since ordered the power shut off at the apartment building, causing hundreds of tenants to be displaced.
“The Electrical Safety Authority has determined that the power to the entire building must immediately be disconnected for safety reasons. The building must be evacuated,” Pegg wrote in a post on Twitter early Saturday.
Toronto police said in an update on Twitter that residents were asked to “seek temporary shelter with friends/family” as arrangements were being made to help those without accommodations.
Pegg said approximately 700 people live inside the apartment building. Many were initially told to shelter in place as others were evacuated. Several TTC buses were brought in to provide temporary shelter.
Mayor John Tory and Pegg announced displaced residents would be able to go the Driftwood Community Centre Friday night. It was opened with the assistance of the Canadian Red Cross.
Investigators from the Office of the Fire Marshal, Toronto Fire Services and Toronto Police Service were brought in to probe the fire’s origin and circumstances. As of Saturday morning, the cause of the fire wasn’t clear. Electrical and technical inspectors also attended the scene, but it’s unclear when utilities might be restored.
Jason Kenney caucus to get free vote on conscience rights bill
EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says members of his caucus would be free to vote as they wish on a private member’s bill that calls for giving further protection to health workers who invoke conscience rights.
Kenney says his United Conservative caucus allows free votes on issues of conscience.
“We’ll leave it to MLAs to make a decision,” Kenney said Friday.
Kenney said he has not read and therefore can’t say if he would vote yes to Bill 207, which was put forward by United Conservative backbencher Dan Williams.
But Kenney said, “As a matter of principle I, and I hope everybody, respects the constitutionally protected freedom of conscience.”
If Bill 207 is approved, it would mean a health-care provider could not be sued or sanctioned for refusing to provide a service — such as abortion, assisted dying, or contraception — that goes against their moral beliefs.
Right now, Alberta doctors who don’t want to perform those services must refer the patient to someone or to a service that can — but the bill raises questions on whether health providers could be sanctioned for failing to do even that.
NDP critic Sarah Hoffman said the bill is a back-door way to restrict access to abortion and contraception. She said she is hearing those concerns from officials in rural areas where access to physicians and services can be limited.
“There’s already enough challenges for women to access birth control and abortion services and they (the officials) think this has the risk to make it more difficult and to really hurt rural health care,” said Hoffman.
Williams said there is misinformation being circulated about the legislation. He said it seeks only to clarify that health-care providers rights are in line with the Charter.
“I want to be absolutely clear: This bill in no way categorically limits access to any services. That is not my intent. That is not what the bill does.”
The Alberta Medical Association has written to Health Minister Tyler Shandro to say the current rules are working and that Williams’ bill is unnecessary and is already causing anxiety for doctors and patients.
“The bill may have unintended consequences in limiting patient access to services,” AMA president Christine Molnar told Shandro in a public letter sent Wednesday.
“For physicians, the current state protects conscience rights while also ensuring that patients are given information or referral to allow them to pursue access to the desired service.
“This arrangement has served Albertans well and should be maintained.”
Williams has said his bill is in response to an Ontario Appeal Court ruling this spring.
Ontario’s high court affirmed a lower court ruling that found physicians who object on moral grounds to contentious issues like abortion must offer patients an “effective referral” to another health provider.
Kenney, a Catholic, has said his government would not legislate on judicially settled hot button issues like abortion.
Kenney said Friday he is keeping to that commitment because Williams, while a member of Kenney’s United Conservative caucus, is not in cabinet and is therefore not formally part of the UCP government.
“Private members have every right to bring forward bills, perhaps in some cases that they committed to their constituents on, and they will be voted on freely,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2019.
2 B.C. First Nations drop out of Trans Mountain court challenge
Two B.C. First Nations that had been part of a court challenge against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion have now left the group and sided with the Crown corporation.
The Upper Nicola Band, based in Merritt, and the Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation, based in Kamloops, have dropped their litigation with the Federal Court of Appeal and signed deals with Trans Mountain.
Four other B.C. First Nations are continuing with their case against the expansion project, which they argue was approved despite “multiple significant legal deficiencies.”
In a joint news release with Trans Mountain Friday, the Upper Nicola Band said its deal represents a “significant step forward in establishing a relationship” that will address the First Nation’s environmental, archaeological and cultural heritage concerns.
The agreement actively involves the Upper Nicola in emergency response and monitoring of the project, while committing both parties to working to avoid and mitigate impacts on the band’s interests and stewardship areas.
Band members are also encouraged to take advantage of employment and contracting opportunities with the project.
In the release, Upper Nicola Chief Harvey McLeod says the band’s negotiating team came up with the “best deal” possible “under the circumstances presented.”
“The bottom line is that the consultation process needs to change,” McLeod said, adding the First Nation still has “a number of significant issues that must be addressed directly with Canada.”
A news release from Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc says its leadership came together and determined an agreement could be a tool used as part of a larger strategy to protect its cultural, spiritual and historical connections to the land.
A Trans Mountain spokesperson confirmed the two bands dropped out of the court challenge last week after continued discussions with the corporation.
The Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nations in Metro Vancouver, the Coldwater Indian Band in Merritt and a coalition of small First Nations in the Fraser Valley are still involved in the court challenge against Trans Mountain.
The First Nations launched the challenge in July with the belief that a victory on any of the legal grounds would be enough to quash the current approval and send the pipeline back to the drawing board.
The court has ruled that upcoming arguments can only focus on whether the latest round of Indigenous consultation was adequate.
Last week, the Tsleil-Waututh and three environmental groups sought leave to appeal that ruling in the Supreme Court of Canada, claiming the Federal Court was wrong to refuse to hear arguments about the risk of an oil spill or threats to endangered southern killer whales.
The federal government re-approved the pipeline in June after launching consultation with Indigenous communities. The National Energy Board also conducted new hearings and ultimately gave the project the thumbs up for the second time.
The legal filings from the First Nations argue there were constitutional violations, primarily around the failure to satisfy the duty to consult, accommodate and seek consent from First Nations. The lawsuits also allege regulatory legal errors were made by the National Energy Board.
First Nations communities are divided on the project. There are two groups led by Indigenous communities that want to purchase and operate the existing pipeline from the federal government, with the intention to expand it.
There are other First Nations arguing that the pipeline would destroy significant spiritual and historic sites as well as important aquifers, impeding their ability to practice their culture and exercise Indigenous rights.
— With files from Richard Zussman and the Canadian Press
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