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An unusual threat is looming off the Pacific coast of North America from Juneau in Alaska to Baja California. Now roughly 2000 kilometres wide and 100 metres deep, a mass of warm water that scientists are calling "the blob" has lingered off the coast for a year and a half and has set temperature records, with waters between 1 °C and 4 °C warmer than normal.

Fresh research published in Geophysical Research Letters has examined the causes and impacts of this area of water, which has grown more recently.

The blob has changed water-circulation patterns, affected inland weather and reshuffled ecosystems at sea. Although scientists say the planet's warming oceans may not be responsible for the mysterious and long-lived anomaly, some see it as an early warning of changes that might be coming to the Pacific in the next few decades.

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