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R/V Sikuliaq Cruise, Summer 2019

2019 NGA REU students
satellite chlorophyll
Satellite observed Chlorophyll in the Gulf of Alaska with NGA station locations. [credit: Rachel Potter]

The Summer 2019 cruise aboard R/V Sikuliaq has begun. 2019 is the 50th consecutive year of samples taken at oceanographic station GAK1 (begun December 1970) and the 23nd consecutive year of Seward Line physical-chemical-phytoplankton-zooplankton-seabird sampling. However, many new things are happening too.

Special Studies

Deploying GEO mooring
Deployment of a Gulf Ecosystem Observatory (GEO) mooring aboard R/V Sikuliaq [credit: Seth Danielson]

One of our special studies involves several days of high-resolution sampling of the Copper River discharge plume. We suspect this plume is a source of iron (and other nutrients), therefore driving some of the high productivity in the Gulf of Alaska. To investigate this, we’ll be deploying drifters, making maps of data along the plume edge, and performing incubation growth experiment using both shelf and offshore water.

In addition, the Gulf of Alaska Ecosystem Observatory (GEO) is being deployed this week. During the next year, it will report oceanographic conditions in real-time. The GEO moorings will provide the NGA LTER program with year-long data about conditions in the Gulf, so we can know what is happening even when we can’t be there. Two of the three moorings in the array report real-time data on ocean surface conditions. You can view data from these moorings in the Ocean Data Explorer system provided by AOOS and Axiom Data Science:

Special Communication

2019 NGA REU students
Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) students Ayanda, Kelsie, Adrianna, Kate, and Delphina on the deck of R/V Sikuliaq on the 4th of July following safety training for bear guards, compressed air grapnel hook cannon demonstrations, and deployment of satellite-tracked drifters. [credit: Seth Danielson]

Five Research Experience for Undergraduate students are also aboard. Most of their time is spent in the labs at UAF and WWU, but for a few weeks, they are experiencing life at sea. They are:

  • Adrianna, working with Russ Hopcroft (UAF),
  • Kate, working with Russ Hopcroft (UAF),
  • Ayanda, working with Seth Danielson (UAF),
  • Delphina, working with Suzanne Strom (WWU), and
  • Kelsie, working with Ana Aguilar-Islas (UAF).

Participants are also updating several blogs about their work.

Internet communication with ships in the Gulf of Alaska is spotty, but these blogs will be updated as often as possible. Katie Gavenus’s completed blog from the Spring cruise gives even more insight into our work.

2019 REU Potential Projects

Research Experience for Undergraduates

The ideas for REU projects give an overview of currently interesting research topics at the NGA LTER. They range from physics to chemistry to biology. They involve retrospective analysis of decades worth of data or cutting-edge sampling aboard R/V Sikuliaq. The following are project ideas submitted by UAF investigators. REU students might work one of them, or use them as inspiration to design their own summer project. At the end of the summer, students will present their findings.

REU project with Seth Danielson:

The physics of the Prince William Sound
Prince William Sound (PWS) is a fjord adjacent to the Gulf of Alaska. A shallow sill separates the deep waters within the fjord from the Gulf, which provides sheltered habitat for zooplankton that over-winter there during diapause. Since the Exxon Valdez oil spill, physical oceanographic measurements, such as temperature and salinity, have been taken in PWS. The REU student will assemble these measurements (and the density calculated from them) from multiple sources, and will compute monthly means and time-series of anomalies. Consequently, we can investigate:

  • Do the deep waters in PWS get replaced every year?
  • Are there trends in the temperature and salinity properties?
  • How much do the deep properties vary from one year to the next?

The student will gain experience analyzing physical oceanographic data, and will code algorithms in either MATLAB or Python.

CTD sampling in Prince William Sound.

REU project with Ana Aguilar-Islas:

Investigating nutrient cycling in the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA)
Along with light, nutrients are essential resources for phytoplankton (unicellular primary producers). In the NGA, the relative availability of macronutrients (i.e., nitrate, phosphate, silicic acid) and the micronutrient iron exert a key control on the phytoplankton community structure, which in turn influences higher trophic level communities.

The REU student will participate in the summer 2019 LTER cruise onboard R/V Sikuliaq in late June/early July. Onboard, they will:

  • Participate in water sampling while collecting macronutrients, and
  • Help perform iron dissolution experiments.

Back in the lab, the student will work with archived nutrient data to investigate inter-annual (2017 and 2018) and seasonal (spring and fall) variability in macronutrient distributions along the Seward Line in the NGA. The student will gain seagoing experience, will learn best-practices in the collection of seawater for nutrient analysis, will gain experience plotting and interpreting oceanographic chemical data.

Incubation Experiment
Performing an incubation experiment aboard R/V Sikuliaq, Spring 2018

REU project with Russ Hopcroft:

Computers help count zooplankton
NGA-LTER scientists collect millions of zooplankton during our net tows in the Gulf of Alaska. These must be identified into species and counted to order to understand the Gulf’s community structure. But that is tedious work. Therefore, we are teaching computers to do it for us. First, a watertight, flat-bed scanner (ZooScan) creates a digital image of a plankton sample from a net tow. Then software isolates individual images and sorts them into taxonomic groups (or particles and detritus). To teach the software how to do the sorting, scientists create a training set and then double-check the output. The REU student will gain lab experience as they scan and sort samples, and then will have the opportunity to look for differences in communities across stations and cruises.

REU project with Russ Hopcroft:

Telling sisters apart
The Gulf of Alaska zooplankton contains many examples of closely related “sibling species”. These species occupy similar niches in the environment, but are slightly different in ways that may create advantages under changing conditions. It is likely that climate change acts by tipping the scales on which sister species are more successful. Unfortunately, zooplankton sampling in previous years did not always differentiate between these sisters. To gain knowledge about how things have changed in the NGA over the years, we hope a detail-oriented REU student will look back through our archived samples. They will help establish the shifting ratio of two keystone copepod species during the first decade of our time series, while they gain experience in microscope work and taxonomic classification. Moreover, we are also open to other small projects that might utilize our historical samples.

REU project: net tow samples
Contents of plankton net samples vary dramatically by station.

REU Opportunity, Summer 2019

Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Summer 2019


The Northern Gulf of Alaska Long Term Ecological Research (NGA LTER) project invites undergraduate students to participate in our interdisciplinary oceanographic research. Two or three REU students will join our team from June 3 to August 23, 2019. The application period closes May 7, 2019 March 15, 2019; applicants will be notified soon thereafter.

We seek highly motivated undergraduates with interest in marine science, biology, chemistry, physics, and/or computer science to work with scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The students’ research will integrate with work currently being done on the NGA LTER ecosystem. Oceanographic research projects include water column characterization measurements, zooplankton studies, particle dynamics studies, data analysis, and numerical oceanographic modeling.

The time period of this REU position includes our summer cruise aboard R/V Sikuliaq. So participation in ship-board research activities is also possible.



  • $12/hr for a summer full-time position (40 hours per week) over 12 weeks.
  • Discretionary funds may be available to offset housing and transportation costs.


  • Required:
    • College level background in biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, or marine science
    • The ability to carefully follow instructions
    • The ability to successfully work in a team setting
    • Good communication skills.
  • Desired:
    • Upper division status in a B.S. program
    • An interest in continuing scientific research upon graduation


  • Must be a registered student in an undergraduate program.
  • Citizenship or permanent residency in the United States or its possessions is required.

To Apply

To apply, email your resume and a cover letter to Elizabeth Dobbins (eldobbins@alaska.edu). The cover letter should include a brief description of your interest in participating in LTER research. Make sure your resume includes:

  • Contact information: email address and telephone numbers,
  • Applicable completed coursework,
  • Previous laboratory/field experience, and
  • Anticipated graduation date

Preliminary contact with potential mentors is highly suggested. You can find potential mentors and their fields of study on our Personnel Page.

Members of groups under-represented in earth and environmental science are particularly encouraged to apply.

More Information: NGA_LTER_oceanographic_REU
Potential project ideas are also available.