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Science Nugget – Spring Bloom, 2021

more planktonic organisms spring 2021

Massive, early spring bloom in the northern Gulf of Alaska, April-May 2021

Satellite measurements

Some of the highest chlorophyll concentrations recorded during the 24-year occupation of the Seward Line were seen in late April – early May 2021, in association with a massive spring bloom of diatoms. As an illustration, satellite imagery from NASA’s VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) shows the bloom developing rapidly between April 18th and 25th.

Chlorophyll-a April 18 2021
Satellite measurements of Chlorophyll-a in the Gulf of Alaska, April 18, 2021 [Credit: Rachel Potter from NASA VIIRS data]
Chlorophyll-a April 25 2021
Satellite measurements of Chlorophyll-a in the Gulf of Alaska, April 25, 2021 [Credit: Rachel Potter from NASA VIIRS data]

Field sampling provided details

Our field sampling from R/V Sikuliaq coincided with this bloom. We found relatively cool ocean temperatures and, in places, fresher conditions than usual, as shown below for the GAK line. High chlorophyll was mostly confined to the upper 20 m of the water column (as seen in the fluorescence section below). Likely, this bloom was a response to intermittent sunny days and light winds. Late April chlorophyll-a concentrations reached almost 30 μg liter-1 on the inner MID line. In contrast, in some springs the peak concentrations are only one-tenth this level. Surface macronutrients (nitrate and silicic acid) had been drawn down to levels usually observed in summer (<1 μM liter-1).

temperature and salinity plot
Anomalies of temperature and salinity along the Seward Line, spring 2021 [Credit: Seth Danielson]
fluorescence plot
Fluorescence along the Seward Line, spring 2021 [Credit: Russ Hopcroft]

Microscopy conducted on board showed a diverse mixture of chain diatoms and colonial Phaeocystis comprising the bloom phytoplankton community. Concurrently, late-stage juveniles of the spring dominant Neocalanus copepod community had large amounts of lipid stores. At some stations, these copepods were already beginning their seasonal descent to deep diapause depths. Conversely, seabird abundances were some of the lowest ever observed during the >20-year time series, and few marine mammals were sighted.

The early, intense bloom of large, lipid-rich phytoplankton bodes well for survival and growth of krill and larval fish in 2021.

Planktonic organisms
Planktonic organisms in the Gulf of Alaska, Spring 2021

For further information contact Russ Hopcroft (rrhopcroft@alaska.edu) or Suzanne Strom (stroms@wwu.edu)

Short Course in Oceanographic Fieldwork Announcement

In August, 2021, the University of Alaska’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Science is offering a short course in oceanographic fieldwork for subarctic environments.

MSL425/625 Augustmester class flyer [credit: Will Burt]

UAF’s AUGUSTmester courses are intense, three-credit courses that meet for only ten weekdays.
All students must be in good academic standing to take an AUGUSTmester course.

2021 Alaska Native REU

Students and scientists

Spring 2021 to Fall 2021

Students and scientists
Students and scientists in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Hana Busse.

The Northern Gulf of Alaska Long Term Ecological Research (NGA LTER) project invites Alaska Native undergraduate students to participate in our interdisciplinary project during 2021. 

Timing options for student involvement:

  1. Spring and Summer 2021
  2. Summer 2021 only
  3. Summer and Fall 2021
  4. Spring and Fall 2021

Any of the first three options include an opportunity to participate in a research expedition (dates to be determined as sea activities may be subject to quarantines, personnel reductions, and other restrictions due to COVID-19).

NGA LTER is one site within the national LTER network. Our research team investigates the features, mechanisms, and processes that drive NGA ecosystem production and foster its resilience. Scientists conduct ship-based observations and experiments, do research in land-based laboratories, run computer models of the ocean, and communicate findings to  students and the public through education and outreach partners.

We seek a Alaska Native undergraduate student with interest in the Northern Gulf of Alaska to work with our University of Alaska Fairbanks team. Student research will integrate with work currently being done on the NGA LTER ecosystem. The time period of this REU position could includes our summer expedition aboard R/V Sikuliaq, so participation in ship-board research activities is possible, as is work that fosters partnerships with other disciplines. Research themes include biogeochemical cycling, microplankton ecology, physical oceanography, chemical oceanography, zooplankton ecology and molecular studies. For more information on potential research projects, please see the potential projects and mentors listing or contact any mentors directly to discuss other possible  projects.

This REU opportunity is not limited strictly to oceanographic research, but can be a project that promotes partnership between marine science  and other disciplines. Projects can be related to fields including but not limited to visual arts, music, education, engineering, communication. Participation could include joining a research  expedition to the Northern Gulf of Alaska onboard  R/V Sikuliaq, or it could be carried out fully at the UAF campus. The student will present their work to the UAF LTER community when the project is completed.

Details

Salary

  • Stipend of $5760 for a position that requires 480 total working hours.
  • Additional  funds may be available to offset housing and transportation costs.

Qualifications

Required:

  • Alaska Native heritage

Preference will be given to applicants whose resume indicate:

  • Desire to work in a team setting.
  • Communication skills.
  • Organizational skills.
  • An interest in science.
  • Self-motivation.
  • Enrolled in the UA system.
  • Upper division status in a bachelor’s program.

How to Apply

Annie filtering nutrients
Filtering nutrient samples aboard the R/V Sikuliaq.

Applicants must be citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. and its possessions and must be enrolled in a 2- or 4-year institution of higher education. Students who have received a bachelor’s degree before the start date of the program are ineligible. 

To apply, email each of the following:

  1. Cover letter

The cover letter should include a brief description of your project and your interest in the Northern Gulf of Alaska. Contact mentors directly to design a project, or see 2021 REU projects and mentors for more information.

  1. Resume

Make sure your resume includes:

  • Contact information: email address and telephone number
  • Previous work and academic experience
  • Anticipated graduation date
  1. Transcripts

Unofficial transcripts are acceptable.

  1. One letter of reference

This email should be sent directly from the person writing the letter, with the applicant’s name included in the subject line.

Application materials may be submitted by email to:

  • Katie Gavenus, Education and Outreach Coordinator
  • Email address: projectmanager.ngalter@gmail.com
  • Please include “REU:” at the start of the email subject line

Questions? Please contact projectmanager.ngalter@gmail.com

 

Potential REU Project Ideas and Mentors

R/V Sikuliaq
R/V Sikuliaq

Ideas for REU projects give an overview of current research topics at the NGA LTER, and include aspects of biological, chemical and physical oceanography in the northern Gulf of Alaska. Projects involve retrospective analysis of decades worth of data, or cutting-edge sampling aboard R/V Sikuliaq. The following are project ideas submitted by NGA LTER investigators. REU students might work on one of them, or use them as inspiration to design their own research project. At the end of the summer, students will present their findings.

 

REU project with Will Burt:

Tracing nutrient inputs using radioisotopes

The marine algae that form the base of the marine food web require essential nutrients to grow. For some micronutrients (e.g. iron and manganese) the seafloor is thought to be a potentially important source, but quantifying this seafloor source is difficult. Naturally-occurring radium isotopes have a distinct seafloor source, and once they enter the water column they decay at well-defined rates. Therefore, by detecting radium alongside micronutrients in surface waters, we may be able to calculate the rate at which seafloor-derived nutrients are transported into surface waters, and if we do that, we’ll add an important piece to the complex puzzle that is the Northern Gulf of Alaska biogeochemical cycle.

During the 2021 summer LTER cruise on R/V Sikuliaq, the REU will involve collecting water samples, extracting radium isotopes from samples onto fibers, and measure radioactivity of the fibers using our onboard alpha counter. After the cruise, the student will combine their radioisotope data with physical and biological information to understand the role of the seafloor in altering the physics, chemistry, and biology of the overlying waters.

While the amount of radioactivity we measure is completely harmless, we hope the ‘fallout’ of our results make a real impact!

 

REU project with Suzanne Strom:

Team Plankton
2019 REU student Delphina (left) pictured with the Strom Lab.

My work broadly encompasses the phytoplankton, micrograzers, and organic carbon cycle in Gulf of Alaska waters. Projects at sea could include experiments to test the salinity tolerance of different micrograzers, or field sampling to look at the occurrence of mixotrophy (photosynthesis and grazing by the same single-celled organisms). If we are unable to go to sea, data analysis projects are possible, including comparison of remote sensing (satellite) and field measurements of phytoplankton biomass and production.

 

REU project with Seth Danielson:

Prince William Sound is a fjord-rimmed estuary adjacent to the Gulf of Alaska. A shallow sill separates the deep waters within the fjord from the greater Gulf; the deep waters provide sheltered habitat for over-wintering zooplankton. Since before the Exxon Valdez oil spill, physical oceanographic measurements such as temperature and salinity have been taken in Prince William Sound. The REU student will assemble these data from multiple sources, and will compute monthly means and time-series of anomalies. With the data 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 subsurface properties vary from one year to the next? The student will gain experience analyzing physical oceanographic data, and will code algorithms in the MATLAB computational environment.

 

CTD sampling in the Copper River Plume.

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 availability of macronutrients (i.e., nitrate, phosphate, silicic acid) and micronutrients (e.g., iron, manganese, copper) influence the phytoplankton community structure, which in turn influences higher trophic level communities. Projects at sea could include dissolution experiments from various marine particles, or collection of aerosol samples to investigate the solubility of aerosol-derived micronutrients. If we are unable to go to sea, projects could include analysis of previously collected samples to determine manganese and aluminum content.

 

REU projects with Russ Hopcroft:

  1. 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.

2. 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 with Jennifer Questel

Zooplankton sampling onboard the R/V Sikuliaq.

Zooplankton species that inhabit the world’s oceans are often very difficult to tell apart just by looking at their morphological features under a microscope. In the Gulf of Alaska there are species that look like identical twins, yet their genetic makeup is different, a term referred to as cryptic speciation. DNA barcoding is a tool that allows researchers to identify organisms to the species level and to tell these “twins” apart by analyzing the differences in the cytochrome oxidase I (COI) gene. This project would allow an REU student to focus on DNA barcoding one or more species from various groups of zooplankton of their choice. This student would get to work in both the zooplankton and genetics labs at UAF. They will work with specimens from samples previously collected from the Gulf of Alaska and get the opportunity to collect and pick their organism(s) of choice at sea during the summer LTER cruise. The student will gain experience with extracting DNA from zooplankton and running PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to target and amplify the COI gene. They will also learn how to analyze DNA sequence data and to determine if a species exhibits cryptic speciation. Any sequences generated by the student will be incorporated into a publicly available zooplankton DNA sequence database that is used by researchers worldwide for molecular-based zooplankton studies. No prior knowledge of genetics by the student is needed for their project to be successful.

 

 

COVID-19

Although the NGA LTER has a successful record of fieldwork during the COVID-19 pandemic, future research activities may be subject to quarantines, personnel reductions, and other restrictions. We anticipate that conditions allow for broad, in-person REU involvement in 2021. If not, we will pursue other avenues to maintain our 2021 REU program, including remote options.

 

2021 Ocean Sciences REU

REU Student Incubators

JOIN OUR TEAM THIS SUMMER!

REU Student Incubators
Students setting up deckboard incubators aboard the R/V Sikuliaq during our 2019 REU program.

The Northern Gulf of Alaska Long Term Ecological Research (NGA LTER) project invites undergraduate students to participate in our interdisciplinary oceanographic research this summer. This cohort of REU students will join our team from June 15 to August 20, 2021. The application period closes February 15, 2021; applicants will be notified in mid-March.

The NGA LTER is one site within the national LTER network. Our research team investigates the features, mechanisms, and processes that support NGA ecosystem production and foster its resilience. Scientists conduct field work, including ship-based experiments, run computer models of the ocean, and communicate findings to students and the public through education and outreach partners.

We seek highly motivated undergraduates with interest in marine science, biology, chemistry, and/or physics to work with scientists through the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Student research will integrate with work currently being done on the NGA LTER ecosystem. The time period of this REU position includes our summer cruise aboard R/V Sikuliaq, so participation in ship-board research activities is possible, as is historical time series or retroactive data analysis. Oceanographic research themes include biogeochemical cycling, microplankton ecology, physical oceanography, chemical oceanography, zooplankton ecology and molecular studies. For more information on potential research projects, please see potential projects and mentors, listed below.

Details

Salary

  • Stipend of $5760 for a full-time position (40 hours per week) over 10 weeks.
  • Additional funds may be available to offset housing and transportation costs.

Qualifications

Required:

  • College level background in biology, chemistry, physics, or marine science.
  • The ability to carefully follow instructions.
  • Desire to work in a team setting.
  • Communication skills.

Desired:

  • Upper division status in a Bachelor of Science program.
  • An interest in continuing scientific research upon graduation. 

How to Apply

Applicants must be citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. and its possessions and must be enrolled in a 2- or 4-year institution of higher education. Students who have received a bachelor’s degree before the start date of the program are ineligible. Members of groups under-represented in earth and environmental science are strongly encouraged to apply.

To apply, email each of the following:

  1. Cover letter

The cover letter should include a brief description of your interest in participating in LTER research. See potential projects and mentors.

  1. Resume

Make sure your resume includes:

  • Contact information: email address and telephone numbers
  • Previous laboratory/field experience
  • Anticipated graduation date
  1. Transcripts

Unofficial transcripts are acceptable.

  1. One letter of reference

This email should be sent directly from the person writing the letter, with the applicant’s name included in the subject line.

Application materials may be submitted by email to:

  • Katie Gavenus, Education and Outreach Coordinator
  • Email address: projectmanager.ngalter@gmail.com
  • Please include “REU” at the start of the email subject line

Questions? Please contact projectmanager.ngalter@gmail.com

 

Read more

Graduate Students Successfully Defend

Congratulations Kira Monell and Annie Kandel!

Kira net sampling
Kira taking zooplankton samples aboard the R/V Tiglax. Photo credit: Mette Kaufmann

Kira is a master’s student in the Marine Biology Graduate Program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Her thesis is titled “Characterization of Cell Division in the Tissues of the Calanoid Copepod, Neocalanus flemingeri from Diapause through Early Oogenesis.”

During the summer and fall 2019 NGA LTER cruises, Kira collected diapausing female copepods. She examined lipid content and cell division within the reproductive structures. Through Kira’s work, she discovered that Neocalanus flemingeri can stop diapause and begin creating egg cells within just twenty-four hours after being collected.

 

Initiation of oogenesis
From Kira’s thesis: cell division in the ovaries of a sub-Arctic copepod, Neocalanus flemingeri.  Fluorescent microscopy photo showing the start of egg cell creation. Blue cells are non-dividing cells of the ovary and red cells are dividing egg cells. The ov and white outline indicates where the ovary is, and the od shows the oviducts. (A) Females have not started egg cell creation three hours after collection. (B) Females have started creating egg cells twenty-four hours after being collected, as shown by the red cells in the ovary.

 

Annie filtering nutrients
Sampling the CTD: Annie filtering nutrient samples aboard the R/V Sikuliaq.

Annie Kandel is a master’s student through the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. For Annie’s thesis, titled “Spatial and temporal variability of dissolved aluminum and manganese in surface waters of the northern Gulf of Alaska,” Annie investigated the seasonal variability of dissolved aluminum and dissolved manganese in our study area. Annie derived data from the spring, summer, and fall NGA LTER cruises in 2018 and 2019.

Annie’s work showed that dissolved aluminum and manganese are trace metals that can be used as tracers of freshwater input in the NGA. This is because in this region, their main source is from rivers. Values for both metals are highest inshore, closer to the mouth of the Copper River, and decrease moving offshore.

 

Al and Mn concentrations in the Gulf of Alaska
Annie’s thesis data: surface concentrations of dissolved aluminum [Al] and dissolved manganese [Mn] during the summer 2019 Copper River plume study. Shown are 50 m, 100 m, and 250 m bathymetry contours.

Post Doctoral Fellow – Gulf Watch Alaska (GWA)

The Oceanography Department in UAF’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences is seeking a post doctoral scholar to work with Gulf Watch Alaska. The postdoc will contribute to existing data synthesis efforts and lead new analyses.

Gulf Watch Alaska

Gulf Watch Alaska (GWA) is the long-term ecosystem monitoring program of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.  GWA partners with the Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research (NGA LTER) project to monitor the northern Gulf of Alaska ecosystem. In fact, NGA LTER is an example of an GWA project that has existed for multiple decades with resulting long-term physical and biological time series for the Gulf of Alaska. 

GWA investigates three main ecosystem components: 

  • Environmental Drivers (physical and biological oceanography),
  • Nearshore Ecosystems (intertidal and coastal food web), and 
  • Pelagic Ecosystems (forage fish and predators of the pelagic food web).

GWA Science Synthesis

GWA supports annual field sampling efforts. However, it is also conducting cross-component science syntheses that focus on the effects of the recent northeast Pacific marine heatwave.

The postdoctoral scholar for this project will contribute as lead author and as co-author to GWA program synthesis products. They will collaborate with their UAF faculty advisor, GWA investigators, and the GWA Science Coordinator and ecosystem component leads.  Together, they will design and conduct studies related to the phenology, magnitude, spatial variability, and recovery time of biological responses to and physical drivers of the marine heatwave. Additionally, other biophysical mechanisms of population regulation in the Gulf of Alaska may also be addressed.

Sunrise over the Gulf of Alaska

Ecosystem Indicators and Management

These synthesis activities will support management actions by informing the ecosystem-based fisheries management of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. For instance, the postdoctoral scholar will work with the GWA Science Coordinator to update existing and develop new ecosystem indicators to be used in NOAA’s Gulf of Alaska Ecosystem Status reports and Ecosystem and Socioeconomic Profiles.

In addition, the post-doctoral scholar will also provide technical review and editing of manuscripts, reports, and work plans for the GWA Program Management Team. They will also present results of their research at GWA meetings, scientific conferences, and to the public.

Learn More

To learn more about this position and to apply, please visit Careers at UA.  The deadline is November 30, 2020.

100th Occupation of the Seward Line

2020 Field Season Complete

CTD Sampling
Graduate students Hana Busse (WWU) and Annie Kandel (UAF) sample the CTD aboard the R/V Sikuliaq.

Despite challenges and restrictions due to COVID-19, the NGA LTER was able to complete their 2020 field operations. These operations included four planned research cruises, and redeployment of several moorings.

To enable this, we shortened cruise lengths, reduced the number of participating scientist, and transferred on cruise to a different vessel. In the end, the NGA team pulled off the core Gulf of Alaska sampling and so maintained the long-term time series datasets.

Fall Cruise Update

During the first 9 days in September, twelve scientists from the University of Alaska (UAF), Western Washington University (WWU) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) sailed aboard the R/V Sikuliaq. Originally, the fall cruise was scheduled to take place on the USFWS vessel R/V Tiglax. Unfortunately, the pandemic forced the cancellation of all 2020 Tiglax sailings. Postponement of other research cruises on the Sikuliaq schedule and a slight shift of fall LTER sailing dates opened a window of availability for a fall expedition.

Fall sampling occurred in Prince William Sound and along the Seward Line. This marks the 100th occupation of the Seward Line using a (nearly) modern suite of vertically profiling sondes! The Seward Line is a 150 nautical mile transect that starts at the mouth of Resurrection Bay and extends offshore into oceanic waters. The first occupation of the Seward Line was in December, 1970. Over the first few years, samples were taken only at discrete depth levels using Nansen bottles and reversing thermometers.

Temperature and salinity
Temperature and salinity anomaly plots from the September 2020 cruise along the Seward Line.

 

A history of the sampling along the Seward Line includes:

  • First, sampling at Seward Line stations began with a cruise in 1970. Bottles collected water samples from depth.
  • Using profiling dataloggers, 17 full occupations of the Seward Line occurred from 1974 to 1997.
  • Then from 1997-2004, sampling expanded to 6-7 cruises per year as part of the U.S. Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC) program.
  • From 2005 to 2017, cruises occurred in May and September on the Seward Line and in Prince William Sound. The consortium of funding partners include NOAA, the North Pacific Research Board (NPRB), the Alaska Ocean Observing System (AOOS), and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council (EVOS) via the Gulf Watch Alaska program.
  • Most recently, in 2018 the consortium expanded via funding from NSF’s LTER network. The expansion includes spring, summer and fall expeditions and the addition of survey stations east and west of the Seward Line.

More details and information on the history of our site – https://nga.lternet.edu/about-us/site-history/

 

Successful 2020 Seward Line Cruise Completed

Post-cruise Update

Despite only having three scientists aboard and working around 2 gales, the Spring 2020 cruise succeeded! That means all the cruise objectives were met during the May 4 – 10, 2020 cruise, thanks to the efforts of the entire team, including marine technicians and the whole crew of the R/V Sikuliaq. Successful elements of our cruise include:

  • CTD profiling of ocean physics, collections of macronutrients, chlorophyll, phytoplankton, and three size classes of zooplankton at all 15 Seward Line and 5 western Prince William Sound stations,
  • Recovery of the GAK1 mooring, (a year’s worth of temperature and salinity data at 6 depths) and its re-deployment for the next year, and
  • Re-deployment of the GEO1 mooring recovered by R/V Sikuliaq in April. This mooring includes a Profiler that will measure temperature, salinity, chlorophyll-a fluorescence, colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM), nitrate (NO3), and dissolved oxygen (DO) throughout the water column for the next year.
May 2020 CTD
CTD data from the Seward Line, May 2020.

More Media Coverage

As discussed before, this cruise shows how science can adapt during the time of COVID-19. Since that last post, several more stories have been published.

Before the cruise departed, Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove spoke to LTER Lead PI Russ Hopcroft. Dr Hopcroft explained why sampling this spring was necessary to understand measurements that might be more easily made later in the year, and how springtime measurements enable connections to be made between years:

The Sun sets through an R/V Sikuliaq window in May 2020. Credit: Seth Danielson

Then after the cruise, EOS, the weekly magazine of the American Geophysical Union published an article about the cruise. It describes how measurements were taken while scientists and crew followed the required social distancing.

Citation: Duncombe, J. (2020), What it’s like to social distance at sea, Eos, 101, https://doi.org/10.1029/2020EO144098. Published on 12 May 2020.

Seward Line Sampling Continues Despite COVID-19 Worries

Resilience in Gulf of Alaska Science

Like everyone, scientists world-wide want to reduce the spread of COVID-19. However, for their work, they also need to continue research projects that rely in part on uninterrupted data records. Fortunately, with the support of NSF and University of Alaska, NGA LTER scientists will be able to do both by reducing spring field operations.

A press release by the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks outlines our plans for the spring cruise: Sikuliaq to embark on limited research cruise in May.

Photo of R/V Sikuliaq at the dock in Seward Alaska
The research vessel Sikuliaq, here in Seward, Alaska, will depart May 4, 2020. [credit: Sarah Spanos]

Evolution forced by COVID-19

Like other research programs, our research plans shifted rapidly in response to the changing situation. Several articles trace this evolution by featuring NGA LTER PIs and research activities.

Importance of the Time Series

Multi-disciplinary monitoring of the Gulf of Alaska ecosystem has occurred every May since 1998. Fisheries managers and research scientists can make informed assessments of Alaska marine ecosystem health and status because of these measurements. This long-term sampling happens along the Seward Line – a set of stations stretching 150 miles across the shelf – and within Prince William Sound. Regular samples at these consistent stations insure the integrity of this time series. Therefore, preserving core physical, nutrient chemistry, phytoplankton and zooplankton data at these stations is a high priority for NGA LTER scientists.

The North Pacific Research Board (NPRB), the Alaska Ocean Observing System (AOOS), and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council (EVOS) via the Gulf Watch Alaska program all provide additional funding that make this time series possible.

graph of GAK1 data
Nearly 50 years of data have been collected at GAK1, a Seward Line station. This allows the calculation of long-term trends and anomalies. [credit: Seth Danielson]

The Plan

Our planned field work aims to continue the valuable Seward Line time series while keeping personnel safe. Before the cruise, R/V Sikuliaq remained in Seward, AK, staffed by her crew. They have been under quarantine on board since their arrival at the start of April. Three of our Principle Investigators (PIs), Seth Danielson, Ana Aguilar-Islas, and Russ Hopcroft, quarantined at home for 2 weeks. They will join R/V Sikuliaq for the 7 day cruise, May 4-10, 2020. Before the cruise, crew and science party members logged body temperatures twice daily and maintained strict adherence to social isolation protocols in order to ensure a virus-free voyage.

The cruise plan includes sampling of the entire Seward Line with additional stations in western Prince William Sound. Planned measurements include water temperature and salinity using the conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) instrument; water collections from deep waters to the surface for chlorophyll, nutrient, phytoplankton, and microzooplankton analysis; and net tows for zooplankton.

Other common NGA LTER activities will not be possible due to the short cruise length and limited personnel. Postponed activities include shipboard experiments, seabird and mammal surveys, jellyfish sampling, dissolved iron and other trace metal sampling, carbonate chemistry sampling, and optical measurements. NGA LTER’s other cross-shelf sampling lines will not be visited.

Despite these restrictions, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to continue our work and to contribute to the goal of understanding the Northern Gulf of Alaska ecosystem.