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The PNW Heatwave, Explained [Infographic]

Written by: Bill Tran

Aug 17, 2021

PNW Heatwave and one billion dead animals

The Pacific Northwest Heatwave (PNW Heatwave) that swept much of the North American west coast was devastating in unfathomable proportions.

From human lives lost from the heat to scorched villages that burned down from fires—now, there’s a new source of casualties.

Marine animals are dying at an unprecedented rate. Specifically, the animals that reside along the coastline, such as mussels, clams, sea stars, and dozens of other species.

Christopher Harley, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, estimates that over one billion animals perished in the PNW Heatwave.

As the sun baked hundreds of miles of coastline where mussels and other animals could inhabit, it got way too hot for marine life to continue.

What exactly does one billion dead animals look like? Find out in the infographic below.

pnw heatwave

Understanding the impact of the PNW Heatwave

The concept of one billion is always staggering whenever it appears in real life. Aside from earth’s current population, the combined net worths of the wealthiest individuals on earth, and the age of the universe, not many other occurrences of a billion show up in everyday conversations.

So how catastrophic was the heat dome on marine animals along the Canadian coastline? Here are some examples of what one billion really means.

One billion seconds

Counting backward from when the heat dome arrived in June 2021, one billion seconds ago would be approximately November 1989, about 32 years ago.

One billion animals cleaned up

Let’s say one person was entirely responsible for cleaning up all the debris from the perished animals by hand.

If they could pick up 20 per second without taking a single break, it would take 578 days.

If it was done over 8-hour workdays, assuming five days a week with no holidays or any discontinuities other than weekends, it’d take about 2,427 days, which is over six and a half years.

One billion grains of table salt

If each marine animal was shrunk down to the size of a single grain of salt, it would take 2.5 cubic feet to contain them all, which is approximately the space inside of a mini-fridge.

The density of salt is 135.47 pounds per cubic foot, meaning there’d be 339 pounds of salt, with each individual grain representing one perished animal.

One billion mussels in a line

Imagine that all one billion animals were mussels and that each mussel is one inch in length. Stringing them together in one single-file line would extend to 15,783 miles. That’s approximately the equivalent of flying from Los Angeles to Boston six times, or digging a hole through the center of the earth and going to the other side, and then coming all the way back.

The PNW Heatwave has changed the ecosystem

What happens next for the west coast ecosystem is unknown. Between all the species that perished, they have different life cycles and impacts on the environment. The fallout of the 2021 heat dome will be researched for years to come and marine biologists have their work cut out for them.

Relevant infographic stories:

Portland Heatwave in 2021 [Infographic]

Portland Heatwave 2021

Rising Gas Prices in the US, Explained [Infographic]

Rising Gas Prices blog header

Want to create your own infographic stories? Get started for free with Venngage’s Infographic Templates.

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Relevant data stories:

About Bill Tran

Bill Tran is a mechanical engineer turned information designer whose work upholds the importance of communicating complex ideas in engaging ways for all sorts of audiences. Using data visualization as a core communication tool, he enjoys exploring data to find hidden stories and trends. His data visualizations can be found on The Win Column. Follow him on Twitter @mrbilltran.