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Title: Ecosystem response persists after a prolonged marine heatwave

Some of the longest and most comprehensive marine ecosystem monitoring programs were established in the Gulf of Alaska following the environmental disaster of the Exxon Valdez oil spill over 30 years ago. These monitoring programs have been successful in assessing recovery from oil spill impacts, and their continuation decades later has now provided an unparalleled assessment of ecosystem responses to another newly emerging global threat, marine heatwaves. The 2014–2016 northeast Pacific marine heatwave (PMH) in the Gulf of Alaska was the longest lasting heatwave globally over the past decade, with some cooling, but also continued warm conditions through 2019. Our analysis of 187 time series from primary production to commercial fisheries and nearshore intertidal to offshore oceanic domains demonstrate abrupt changes across trophic levels, with many responses persisting up to at least 5 years after the onset of the heatwave. Furthermore, our suite of metrics showed novel community-level groupings relative to at least a decade prior to the heatwave. Given anticipated increases in marine heatwaves under current climate projections, it remains uncertain when or if the Gulf of Alaska ecosystem will return to a pre-PMH state.

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Scientific Reports
Nature Publishing Group
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National Science Foundation
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