Scientists have only begun to consider the domino effects. One concern is whether the sea ducks, which feast on mussels in the winter before migrating to their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic, will have enough food to survive the journey.
“It’s at least something that we’re starting to think about,” he said.
Species that live in intertidal zones are resilient, he noted, and the mussels on the shady north side of boulders seem to have survived. But if these extreme heat waves become too frequent, species won’t have time to recover.
While the heat wave over the Pacific Northwest has eased, punishing temperatures have persisted across much of the American West. Now, another heat wave appears to be building, only worsening the ongoing drought.
Heat Wave Hits North America
As suffocating heat hits much of Western North America, experts are concerned about human safety and power failures.
- Western Canada: Canada broke a national heat record on June 27, when the temperature in a small town in British Columbia reached almost 116 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking an 84-year-old record by nearly 3 degrees, with dangerously hot weather expected to continue for several more days.
- Pacific Northwest U.S.: A heat dome has enveloped the region driving temperatures to extreme levels — with temperatures well above 100 degrees — and creating dangerous conditions in a part of the country unaccustomed to oppressive summer weather or air-conditioning.
- Severe Drought: Much of the Western half of the United States is in the grip of a severe drought of historic proportions. Conditions are especially bad in California and the Southwest, but the drought extends into the Pacific Northwest, much of the Intermountain West, and even the Northern Plains. The extreme heat is exacerbating the dry conditions.
- Growing Energy Shortages: Power failures have increased by more than 60 percent since 2015, even as climate change has made heat waves worse, according to new research published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
- Baseline Temperatures Are Rising: New baseline data for temperature, rain, snow and other weather events reveal how the climate has changed in the United States. One key takeaway, the country is getting hotter.
That means biologists are watching river temperatures with alarm. Salmon make an extraordinary migration, often hundreds of miles, from the inland rivers and lakes where they are born, out to sea, and then back again to spawn the next generation. A network of longstanding dams in western states already makes the journey perilous. Now, with climate change worsening heat waves and droughts, scientists say the conditions look grim without intense intervention, which comes with its own risks.
“We are already at critical temperatures three weeks before the most serious heating occurs,” said Don Chapman, a retired fisheries biologist who specialized in salmon and steelhead trout, talking about conditions along the Snake River in Washington, where four dams are the subject of longstanding controversy. “I think we’re headed for disaster.”
The plight of the salmon illustrates a broader danger facing all kinds of species as climate change worsens. Many animals were already struggling to survive because of human activity degrading their habitats. Throw in extreme heat and drought, and their odds of survival diminish.