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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.

Gulf of Alaska Research Opportunity: Murdock Trust Seed Funding (GEO)

We are seeking new partners for the newly installed Northern Gulf of Alaska shelf moored ecosystem observatory (GEO).

CEO mooring deployment
Sister mooring of GEO: the Chukchi Ecosystem Observatory (CEO) being deployed [credit: Seth Danielson]

Current GEO

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust funded the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) to construct a moored Gulf of Alaska Ecosystem Observatory (GEO) in late 2017. Consequently, in 2018-2019, investigators designed the system, purchased components, assembled the moorings, and finally deployed the moorings in July 2019.

Now, an array of one sub-surface and two surface moorings collects high-resolution biological, physical, and chemical data year-round. Some sensors report data in real-time.


This year, the Murdock Trust is making $42,600 in “seed” funds available to bring new partners into the observatory consortium. As a result, we seek short proposals by UAF-based researchers for innovative new observing technologies that can be integrated into the upcoming May 2020 GEO deployment. In other words, this effort aims to encourage new partnerships and technology developments that can be applied to ocean observing via moorings in Alaska’s marine environment.

Deployment of GEO sediment trap
Deployment of GEO sediment trap, R/V Sikuliaq July 2019 [credit: Seth Danielson]

Proposal Guidelines

Interested investigators should e-mail a project description (2-page limit, exclusive of references and budget) and itemized budget to sldanielson@alaska.edu prior to Friday, October 4th, 2019. After notification of proposal success (by November 1st), funds will be available immediately and need to be spent before the end of FY20. In all, we anticipate funding 1-3 proposals. However, by stipulation of the Trust, all seed funds must go to UAF-based researchers.

For a full description of the project background and scope, please refer to the Gulf of Alaska Seed Funding Opportunity announcement.

Further information on the GEO can also be found at:

Murdock Trust logo

Expedition Gulf of Alaska Seamounts 2019

The Habitat

In the deep water south of the NGA LTER study area lies an abyssal plain punctuated by volcanic seamounts – mountains that rise from the sea floor. The seamounts provide rocky, hard substrate that makes a good habitat for cold-water corals and sponges. Above the seamounts, ocean currents upwell nutrients to the surface where they feed planktonic organisms. This productivity attracts fish and seabirds to create relative hot-spots of biodiversity in the open ocean.

Map of seamounts in the North Pacific
Bathymetric map of the Gulf of Alaska, showing its deep basin with seamount chains. Grey – land, Green – continental shelf, Yellow – continental slope, Orange – deep basin. [credit: Seth Danielson]

The Expedition

Immediately following the NGA LTER’s RV Sikuliaq cruise, summer 2019, several of our team members are setting out to extended our knowledge of the Gulf of Alaska. Dr. Russ Hopcroft, Dr. Petra Lenz, Dr. Vittoria Roncalli, Heidi Mendoza Islas, Callie Gesmundo, and Caitlin Smoot are joining our collaborators from Microcosm and other expedition members aboard R/V Sikuliaq to investigate seamounts in the Gulf of Alaska from an ecological perspective.

ROV Global Explorer
ROV Global Explorer by Oceaneering has a multitude of imaging and sampling capabilities ideal for deepwater exploration. [credit: Katrin Iken]

The ROV Global Explorer is a critical tool of this expedition. Operated by Oceaneering International, the ROV will take video and still images of organisms on the sea floor; this is the least-invasive method of sampling communities that could be damaged by bottom trawls and other collection methods. ROV Global Explorer will also collect fragile jellyfish by gently enclosing them in a sampler. This avoids the bias of previous sampling towards hard-shelled organisms that survive net tows.

Expedition Gulf of Alaska Seamounts 2019 will even be employing DNA sequencing to identify microbes. Previously, a NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research expedition to the Gulf of Alaska seamounts in 2002 found that the corals there were distinct habitats for microbes.

Follow Along

The NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research has created a website where visitors can follow the Mission Logs. Additionally, educators can also learn more about the expedition purpose and find videos and other classroom materials.

collage of benthic organisms
Benthic collage. [credit: Gulf of Alaska Seamounts 2019 Expedition]

NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research funds this project, with additional ship support by the National Science Foundation and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Science partners during this mission include scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the University of Manitoba Canada, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), the University of Hawaii, University of Barcelona Spain, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a Microcosm film team from Montrose Pictures. The partner for the ROV is Oceaneering.

R/V Sikuliaq Cruise, Summer 2019

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.

Jellyfish Make News

Methot net for catching jellyfish
Heidi Mendoza-Islas stands in front of a Methot net used for collecting large jellyfish in the Gulf of Alaska. Photo credit: Loring Schaible.

Lauren Frisch, Public Information Officer for the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, UAF, wrote a news item describing interesting NGA LTER research:
Overlooked jellyfish play big role in Gulf of Alaska.

Yes, until now even the NGA LTER project website has overlooked jellyfish. Instead, our major research components focus on the primary producers and zooplankton that are the base of the food chain. Worse, at sea, jellyfish are often simply a nuisance whose tentacles drape on instruments and clog sensors. However, Heidi Mendoza-Islas, a graduate student in the NGA LTER project, studies the important role that jellyfish play in the Gulf of Alaska ecosystem. Read the article to find out more.

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.

Graduate Student Opportunities, 2019

Graduate Student Opportunities at UAF, Starting Fall 2019


credit: Mette Kaufman

The Northern Gulf of Alaska Long Term Ecological Research (NGA LTER) project announces multiple openings for graduate students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks that will begin Fall, 2019. Specialities include trace metal biogeochemistry, zooplankton ecology or physiology, and high latitude physical oceanography.

This project is part of the NGA LTER site. Therefore, student research will focus on the enhanced production and high environmental variability characteristic of the ocean shelf and slope regions of the NGA. This is a field intensive project with 3 yearly cruises from spring to fall. Projects will include fieldwork on UAF-operated R/V Sikuliaq and smaller regional vessels.

The student will be required to present work at international conferences, and to produce publishable manuscripts. Additionally, they join the national LTER network, with the opportunity of interactions with graduate students at other sites as a member of the LTER Graduate Student Committee. Collaboration with the interdisciplinary LTER research community is essential.

ASM poster session
An ASM poster session in full swing. Nearly 300 posters were presented over 2 sessions.
Credit: Kristen Weiss

Position Details

Applicants must have a strong background in oceanography and/or marine biology, chemistry, or physics, as well as strong written and oral communication skills. Experience participating in field research and/or working in laboratory is desirable. Members of groups under-represented in earth and environmental science are particularly encouraged to apply.

Positions include full stipend, health insurance, and a tuition waiver. Initial acceptance is typically at the Master’s level with possibilities to later expand into a Ph.D., or directly into a Ph.D. for those already at the M.S. level.

Application Deadline

CFOS logo

UAF’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences provides application information. For Fall 2019 admission, UAF must receive applications for graduate admission with all supporting documentation, transcripts and test scores no later than June 1, 2019. Contact the appropriate faculty advisor (see below) before April 15, 2019 for more specific information.

More Information

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.

Expanded Teacher at Sea Program

NOAA Teacher at Sea logo

It is with great excitement that we announce our new partnership with NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program!

In 2018, educators participated in each of our three Gulf of Alaska research cruises. Michele Hoffman Trotter, Per Fosstveit, and Mark Van Arsdale filmed creatures, helped with sampling, and developed lesson plans that will introduce students to our Alaskan ecosystem. Altogether, their contributions enabled our LTER program succeed. In general, however, it’s been challenging to connect with teachers and educators who want to get involved in our future cruises.

Mark Van Arsdale
Alaska high school science teacher Mark Van Arsdale on the fall, 2018, NGA LTER cruise

Over the summer, our marine education specialist, Marilyn Sigman, researched existing teacher research experience programs to find the best partner for the NGA LTER. Luckily for us, Mr. Van Arsdale joined us via NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program (TAS), which watered the seed of this new opportunity. As a result, NOAA and CFOS-UAF have made an agreement that will allow more K-12 teachers and marine educators who work in informal settings to take part in our research. In 2019, TAS’s established procedure will recruit teachers to come on our cruises. The educators will also take advantage of TAS infrastructure to post blogs and will participate in the network of TAS alumni. More information about NOAA’s program can be found at the TAS FAQ.

For the 2019 field season, educators will apply through NOAA’s TAS Online Application. We are spreading the word to teachers, informal educators, and administrators, particularly emphasizing educators in Southcentral Alaska.

Interested teachers should apply online before November 30, 2018, for the 2019 Teacher at Sea field season (sample application). Both K-12 teachers and informal educators (such as museum docents) are eligible to apply.