Marine biologists are seeing mysterious and disturbing things along the Pacific Coast this year: higher water temperatures, plummeting catches of fish, lots of dead birds on the beaches, and perhaps most worrisome, very little plankton — the tiny organisms that are a vital link in the ocean food chain.

Is this just one freak year? Or is this global warming?

Few scientists are willing to blame global warming, the theory that carbon dioxide and other manmade emissions are trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and causing a worldwide rise in temperatures. Yet few are willing to rule it out.

“There are strange things happening, but we don’t really understand how all the pieces fit together,” said Jane Lubchenco, a zoologist and climate change expert at Oregon State University. “It’s hard to say whether any single event is just an anomaly or a real indication of something serious happening.”

Scientists say things could very well swing back to normal next year. But if the phenomenon proves to be long-lasting, the consequences could be serious for birds, fish and other wildlife.

This much is known: From California to British Columbia, unusual weather patterns have disrupted the marine ecosystem.

By Terence Chea

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