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March 25, 2021

The 2014-2016 northeast Pacific marine heatwave in the Gulf of Alaska was the longest lasting heatwave globally over the past decade. A new study led by NOAA Fisheries scientists and partners, including four USGS Alaska Science Center scientists, provides an ecosystem-wide look at immediate and lingering effects of the eastern Pacific marine heatwave in the Gulf of Alaska.

The publication Ecosystem response persists after a prolonged marine heatwave used 187 biological indicators including, primary producers, to higher trophic level predators and commercial fisheries, and from intertidal to oceanic habitats to demonstrate abrupt changes throughout the ecosystem. Many responses persisted up to 5 years after the onset of the heatwave. About half the indicators showed short-term or no detectable response, which revealed resilience in the ecosystem. Nonetheless, the heatwave created new community structures that differed from the past decade and persisted after the heatwave ended. Marine heatwaves are expected to increase in strength and duration under current climate projections, so it remains uncertain when or if the Gulf of Alaska ecosystem will return to a pre-heatwave state.

NOAA Feature Story: Most Recent Data Shows Gulf of Alaska Marine Ecosystem Slow to Return to Pre-Heatwave State

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