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East Coast Fish Die-Offs Linked to Extreme Cold Snap by Brandon Keim
Monday, January 10th 2011, 9:17 PM GMT
Co2sceptic (Site Admin)
The death of 2 million fish in Chesapeake Bay isn’t a sign of apocalypse, historical or otherwise, but it does offer a chance to consider what could happen if colder winters become routine in the eastern United States.

Some climatologists have proposed that, paradoxically, a warming Arctic will actually push cold air south, producing patterns like the one believed to have caused the Chesapeake fish kill.

If cold snaps grow deeper even as year-round temperatures rise, Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystems would adapt — but perhaps not, as is usually forecast, through the northward migration of warm-loving species, but by favoring species that can handle extremes.

“The long-term makeup of ecological communities is more driven by extremes than average conditions,” said Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University. “Whatever can survive the extreme makes it in the long-term.”

The Chesapeake Bay fish kill was the latest in a series of animal die-offs to gain attention — and more than a little hysteria — after the dramatic New Year’s Eve death of 5,000 red-winged blackbirds over Beebe, Arkansa,s and the subsequent report of 100,000 drum fish dying in the Arkansas River.

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Those die-offs were not exceptional in the history of single-event die-offs, and paled in comparison to what’s ongoing in North American bats and bees, and in amphibians around the world. But the timing, proximity and general eeriness of the deaths captured the public’s imagination, and suddenly people started paying attention to die-offs that would normally have gone unremarked.

Bird deaths were reported in Sweden, Kentucky and Louisiana, and dead crabs off the English coast. The “aflockalypse” went viral, and the internet filled with (mostly) tongue-in-cheek chatter about the End Times. When the Maryland Department of the Environment released a statement on Jan. 5 about two million spot and croakers dying in Chesapeake Bay, the public was primed to perceive catastrophe.

Unlike the other die-offs, though, the Chesapeake fish kill occurred in a region where ecological monitoring is intensive, thanks to the estuary’s historical fisheries importance, and ongoing efforts to fix the damages of pollution and overfishing. Oxygen, temperature and toxin readings are taken constantly throughout the estuary. History is also a guide: Twenty million fish died in similar circumstances in 1976 and again in 1980. Researchers quickly identified unusually cold water as the prime suspect.

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