The Washington State Department of Ecology distributes a monthly report combining high resolution aerial photographs with satellite and ground-truthed monitoring data for Puget Sound surface conditions.
Once a month, Washington State Department of Ecology marine scientists take to the air to obtain high-resolution aerial photo observations and gather water data at the agency's monitoring stations and via state ferry transects. This provides a visual picture of the health of Puget Sound, which they call Eyes Over Puget Sound or EOPS.
During June, near normal air temperatures and continued low precipitation have resulted in highly variable freshwater inputs to Puget Sound. A large Noctiluca bloom extends across the South Central Basin of Puget Sound. Coccolithophores are blooming in Hood Canal. Macroalgae is drifting as mats on the water in Port Madison, South Central Basin, and South Sound. They are also piling up on beaches in South and Central Puget Sound and Whidbey Basin. Juvenile fish are migrating out of the estuaries and meeting a complex thermal habitat. New infrared images tell the story. Meet our ocean acidification expert, Stephen Gonski.
Rainfall in May was extremely low: The third lowest amount ever recorded. Rivers are responding differently depending upon whether they received water from rain or snow, which is melting rapidly. With projected drier and warmer conditions, can the remaining snowpack maintain healthy streamflows this summer? Seawater is already getting saltier than normal in response to the lack of rain. We see algal blooms in many colors. What is that orange stuff out there? It’s a Noctiluca bloom and organic material drifting at the surface stretching from South to Central Sound and Whidbey Basin.
By March, regional impacts of large-scale climate patterns normalized, and air temperatures, precipitation, and coastal downwelling were below normal. April brought abundant rain and rivers responded. With La Niña returning to ENSO-neutral conditions, will the favorable snowpack maintain beneficial streamflows through summer? In 2018, water conditions in Puget Sound are mostly expected, except in Hood Canal where conditions only changed recently. Many rivers and field drainage ditches release sediment. A strong red-brown bloom is present in Sinclair Inlet, a bright- brown bloom in Padilla Bay (Joe Leary Slough), and a bright green bloom in Bellingham Bay. It is colorful out there! You might see our team on the water sampling sediments this month.
Large-scale climate patterns and local weather patterns are returning to more normal conditions. La Niña helped build a favorable snowpack, projected to persist well into spring due to cooler weather. As a consequence, stream flows are largely normal. In Puget Sound, we see again normal water conditions and observe early spring blooms in Central Sound, northern Hood Canal, and Whidbey Basin. Herring are spawning in Admiralty Reach and further north. Salmon Bay in Seattle continues to have frequent oil sheens on the water.
After a dry and sunny summer extending well into October, air temperatures are cooler than normal and precipitation has increased allowing rivers to regain strength. Despite a dry summer, Puget Sound is fresher this year than the past 17 years. As of September, warmer temperatures remained in South Sound. In October, surface water in the Straits however began to cool and the influence of rivers can be seen in our ferry data. Leaves drift on the water in South Sound and smaller blooms are confined to inlets as the productive season winds down. Meet our new intern and discover if Puget Sound really has sea spiders.
Warm air temperatures, abundant sunshine, and drier conditions persisted. River flows are lower in the north. Puget Sound waters are still fresher than in the past 17 years from the combination of abundant spring rain and weak upwelling bringing less salty water from the ocean. July upwelling was stronger, however. Warmer water temperatures are notable in parts of Central Sound, accompanied by large rafts of drifting macroalgae. Diverse blooms in colors of green, orange and red-brown are present in many inlets. Jellyfish abundance is lower this year. Find out how we assess if the benthos is changing.
July had warm air temperatures, sunshine, and an abundant snowpack. Previous months had higher river flows (bringing freshwater) and weak upwelling (low delivery of saltier water) which resulted in very low salinities in Puget Sound, especially in the South Sound. Water temperatures are expected and warmer in Central Sound. Above normal sunshine has made Puget Sound biologically very active! Intense and unusual blooms color Hood Canal (coccolithophores) and south sound inlets. Large mats of organic material containing macro-algae drift at the surface. Many schools of fish are visible though jellyfish were absent.
Cooler and wetter conditions early in 2017 have set the stage for a favorable supply of freshwater. River flows are all above normal due to melting of the abundant snowpack from warmer May air temperatures. This is creating significantly fresher conditions in Puget Sound surface waters. Algae blooms are limited to some yellow-green blooms growing in bays near the Kitsap Peninsula and blooms near estuaries of the Skagit, Stillaguamish, and Puyallup Rivers. Red blooms are present in rivers feeding into Willapa Bay. Also see what is “blooming” in the sediments of Puget Sound.
The year 2016 in pictures: After two years of very warm air and record high water temperatures starting with the Blob (2015) and followed by El Nino (2016), temperatures have fallen and remain slightly warmer than normal in Puget Sound. Very low summer river flows (e.g., Fraser River) reflect climatic predictions for the NW. Record temperatures and low salinities occurred alongside observations of abundant jellyfish, floating macro-algae, and Noctiluca blooms. Surprisingly, only South Sound developed very low summer oxygen levels in 2016. In the fall, La Niña came with a punch, rain increased, and air temperatures dropped. Will this be an unusual La Niña?
ENSO is in a cold phase (La Niña) and it is wetter and warmer than normal. Strong precipitation in October greatly improved Puget Sound streamflows. At the coast, we had strong downwelling. As a result, water temperatures, salinities, and oxygen in Puget Sound are returning to normal. While surface water in Puget Sound has cooled, it is still warmer than in the Straits. Surprisingly, masses of suspended sediment occurred east of Steamboat Island in Totten Inlet. We continue to see large jellyfish aggregations in finger Inlets of South Sound and slowly fading red-brown blooms.
September is jellyfish season and they are everywhere in southern Puget Sound! Sunny, warm, and dry conditions promoted strong late-summer plankton blooms in colors of red, green, and brown, now widespread in many bays. In contrast, Central Sound looks clear with low algal activity. Southern Puget Sound has large floating mats of organic material and developed lower oxygen in August. Meet the Critter of the Month - The Sweet Potato Sea Cucumber.
In July, conditions were normalizing, yet river flows remained lower, continuing into August. July also saw lower oxygen appearing in southern Puget Sound. By August, jellyfish are occurring in high numbers in Eld and Budd Inlet. South Puget Sound has Noctiluca drifting at the surface in large orange lines in many places and red-brown blooms widespread in finger inlets, as well as in Sinclair Inlet. Central Sound surface-water temperatures are high, still in the 60s, and algae are abundant. See what we are measuring to understand ocean acidification in Puget Sound.
Through June, air temperatures and sunlight were higher than normal. Recent rain generally improved river flows. However, the Fraser river flow remains extremely low, reducing water exchange with the ocean. Water temperatures are still breaking records, yet dissolved oxygen levels are normal. Coastal bays are influenced by upwelling and exhibit lower oxygen and higher salinities. Puget Sound algae are thriving with blooms observed in many South Sound inlets. Macro-algae is seen piling up on beaches and drifting in Central Sound. Jellyfish smacks are numerous in Eld and Budd Inlets. Our fliers notice seals hanging out at the beach!
Record-breaking warmer and fresher water in Puget Sound. May-June conditions are more unusual than last year. Recent rain brought river flows close to normal but water exchange in Puget Sound remains weak due to low Fraser River flow. Phytoplankton blooms and organic material are visible in some areas of Central and South Sound but not in others. Noctiluca, while absent in Central Basin, was reported in unusual places. Jelly fish occur only in some south sound bays. Follow our BEACH program kick off, discover the Stinkworm, and find good underwater visibility for diving.
Spring air temperatures are higher - it has been sunny and dry. The snowpack is quickly disappearing as temperatures are up to 7 °F warmer at higher elevations. Snowmelt-fed rivers are running very high. How does this affect water quality in Puget Sound? A strong spring phytoplankton bloom extends across Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Water temperatures are still higher than normal and jellyfish are already numerous in southern inlets. The high biological activity is causing organic material to drift at the surface and wash onto beaches. Do you know how fast a Sand Star can move?
Despite warmer air temperatures, normal snowpack in the mountains suggest that summer freshwater flows into Puget Sound might be higher than last year. As of April, the spring plankton bloom has extended across Central and South Puget Sound. Ferry data shows chlorophyll increasing after March 25 and expanding across the area. With water temperatures above normal as a carry-over from 2015, jellyfish patches are numerous in inlets of South Sound and in Sinclair Inlet, unusual for this time of year. Check out the tiny burrowing ostracods as well as our Washington Conservation Corps Intern analyzing seawater oxygen.
In response to warm and wet conditions, rivers have been running high. Salinity in Puget Sound is notably lower. Below a cooler surface, water temperatures remain high, especially in Hood Canal. We still see numerous jellyfish patches in Puget Sound inlets. Phytoplankton blooms are going strong in Hood Canal and Henderson Inlet, and picking up elsewhere. Many places showed long stretches of suspended sediments nearshore, a sign of potential shore erosion. Check out the critters inhabiting the sediments of Puget Sound.
January air temperatures and precipitation were above normal as El Nino conditions prevail. This winter our snowpack is in much better shape, though we’ve lost some snow from the stint of warm weather. More rain and higher river flows have lowered salinities in Puget Sound and coastal bays. Nonetheless, water temperatures in Puget Sound remain at record-breaking highs. Jellyfish patches are numerous in finger inlets of South Sound and signs of phytoplankton blooms are visible in coastal bays. When conditions limit flying, Ecology’s research vessel gets the job done.
As coastal and regional conditions gradually normalize in response to a fading Blob and increased rain, the big question remains. Will the snow in the mountains stay there or come down prematurely and lower salinity in Puget Sound like last winter? Cascade snowpack is currently below normal. The El Niño at the equator is still brewing! Major rivers transport large amounts of suspended sediments and soil into Puget Sound, also seen in our ferry sensor data. Our flight team gets in the pool for safety training.
Puget Sound is starting to normalize in response to fall conditions with cooler air temperatures, rain, and recovering river flows. We are seeing fewer algal blooms, jellyfish, and macro-algae as salinities become more normal. Yet warm waters persist and El Nino and the Blob are likely to affect Puget Sound throughout the winter. The Nisqually River fared better through the drought than other rivers and best management practices have been improving its water quality. EOPS and ferry monitoring gain recognition with a national award for innovation!
Air temperatures are warm and Puget Sound continues to show record high water temperatures. Some rain has returned to our region, yet river flows remain unusually low. Puget Sound is saltier than normal allowing oxygen-rich surface waters to more easily mix to greater depths. Lower oxygen was measured only in the Coastal Bays, Hood Canal, and South Sound. Large jellyfish aggregations continue in South Sound, the Kitsap Peninsula, and East Sound (Orcas Island). Sediment plumes in Bellingham Bay form unique patterns. Warm waters and sunny conditions fostered green tides, raising a stink along some local beaches.
Unusually warm water temperatures continue in central and south Puget Sound. River flows remain lower than normal, especially the Fraser and Skagit rivers. Thus, with estuarine circulation much weaker, Puget Sound waters stay put. Mats of organic debris persist in Central Sound near Port Madison. Red-brown and brown blooms are now very strong in southern inlets and jellyfish patches are exceptionally numerous and large. Explore media coverage of unusual Puget Sound conditions including jellyfish.