Ocean Anomalies Watch

To detect and possibly anticipate ecological disruptions in the Columbia River estuary, this interface tracks ocean water masses, estuarine conditions, river discharges and river temperatures.

Ocean source temperature

Plot Year:

Temperature of the ocean source to the Columbia River estuary in selected year (red) compared to 1997-2017 climatology (gray) and El Niño conditions in 1997-98 (blue) and Warm Blob conditions in 2014-2015 (green).Ocean source temperature is estimated using the temperature at the daily maximum of salinity at SATURN stations.

The plot is updated daily. Click to see at a larger size.

SATURN-03: Bio-geochemical data

Plot Year:

Temperature, oxygen, chlorophyll, and nitrate (quality assessed or preliminary) and pH (preliminary only) from SATURN-03, colored by salinity. SATURN-03 is a station in the Navigation Channel of the lower estuary, which sees near ocean water daily under most conditions. Data is available from 2010 onward, availability of fully quality assessed data lags the current date by less than a year. Red shows ocean influence, blue shows river influence.

The plots are updated daily. Click to see at a larger size.


Plot Year:

Climatology for temperature and discharge at Bonneville Dam (from USACE), salinity intrusion length (SIL) (from CMOP model simulations), and cumulative coastal upwelling index (CUI) at 45 N (from NOAA PFEL). Selected year (shown in red) and historic 1998 El Nino (green) and low flow year 2001 (blue) shown in the context of 1997-2017 (SIL not available for 1998)

The plots are updated daily. Click to see at a larger size.

Important contextual information

Click on the images to the right to be taken to NOAA web sites that are tracking sea surface temperature anomalies at the Pacific basin scale (top panel), precipitation and air temperature across the U.S. (middle panel), and Columbia River snowpack (bottom panel).
  • Sea surface temperature anomalies at the Pacific basin scale:

  • Precipitation and air temperature across the U.S.:

  • Columbia River snowpack:


Noteworthy anomalies that have affected the Columbia River estuary since 1996 include:

2015-2016 El Niño: A very strong El Niñ developed in 2015, with anomalously warm water reaching the Columbia River estuary in late 2015 or early 2016 (replacing the end of the 2014-2015 Warm Blob).

2015 Record high river temperatures: The same weather patterns that caused the Warm Blob also caused abnorally high river temperatures in 2015. June and July 2015 saw high river temperatures about a month earlier than normal, causing major sockeye salmon mortality.

2014-2015 The Warm Blob: "The Blob" is the nickname for the warmer than usual (by as much as 50C) waters that have been observed in the North Pacific Ocean in 2014 and 2015.  The unusual weather patterns that cause the Blob are also tied to low spring freshet discharges (from low snow pack) and high temperatures in the Columbia River basin in 2015.

The Blob caused substantial disruption in ecosystems along the West Coast, and in particular in California, but those disruptions were not clearly felt in the Columbia River estuary, although the related high river temperatures and low discharge were felt.

The Blob had the most direct effect on the Columbia River estuary through the incursion of warm waters during Fall 2014 through the Spring transition in April 2015, when the Blob was pushed towards the shore and surface waters were the ocean source for the estuary. After this transition, upwelling kept the Blob offshore, eliminating or greatly reducing its influence on the Columbia River. Warm water from the Blob returned to the estuary with the end of the upwelling season in Nov 2015.

As the Blob deepened in Summer 2015, it's influence possibly became visible as an alteration of the upwelled water, with upwelled water having relatively high temperatures (10 ° C) and low nitrate (20 μM).

2011 Spring Freshet: Larger snowpack in 2011 led to a very large freshet for the modern, post-dam period.

2005 Delayed upwelling onset: A delayed upwelling season in 2005 had substantial ecological effects offshore. The signal is visible in the Columbia River estuary through the temperature of ocean water entering the estuary, but biogeochemical monitoring was not yet in place.

2001 Very weak spring freshet: Very small snowpack produced a record low freshet. However, normal upwelling and the absence of the Warm Blob reduced the impact of low discharge relative to 2015.

1997-1998 El Niño: The previous very large El Niño before 2015.