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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Graduate Student Opportunities at UAF, Starting Fall 2019
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.
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.
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.
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, 2019March 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.
$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.
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.
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, email your resume and a cover letter to Elizabeth Dobbins (firstname.lastname@example.org). 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.
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.
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.
Lauren Frisch, Public Information Officer for the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, UAF, authored a series of four stories about our May 2018 cruise. Although these stories focus on the on-board capabilities of R/V Sikuliaq, they also include engaging descriptions of our research. Find the links to these stories below:
Sikuliaq expands ways to study Gulf of Alaska ecosystems
Studies of zooplankton such as copepods have expanded because of LTER funding and the workspace available aboard R/V Sikuliaq. For instance, CFOS researcher Russ Hopcroft isolates, identifies, photographs, and assesses live animals soon after net tows. Read full story >>
Submarine ‘airplane’ revolutionizes measurement of seawater content
CFOS’s Seth Danielson operates an Acrobat instrument, which he described as the underwater version of an airplane. The Acrobat measures temperature and salinity on fine spatial scales. As a result, LTER scientists can track freshwater from the land and investigate how it mixes with ocean water. Read full story >>
Sikuliaq improves analysis of phytoplankton’s nutrient needs
CFOS’s Ana Aguilar-Islas brings her own specialized clean sampling instruments onto Sikuliaq so she can quantify nutrients like iron that are essential to phytoplankton. Additionally, Aguilar-Islas and WWU’s Suzanne Strom performed incubation experiments to study how iron availability affects plankton growth. Read full story >>
Nutritional flexibility in ciliates and dinoflagellates stabilizes food chains in the Gulf of Alaska. WWU’s Suzanne Strom isolates cells and preserves them soon after they are collected, so she can analyse them at sea and in her onshore lab. Read full story >>
Alicia Rinaldi-Schuler, a fisheries graduate student at CFOS, volunteered for NGA LTER’s Spring 2018 cruise aboard R/V Sikuliaq. Ordinarily, Alicia studies humpback whales. However, we put her to work sampling zooplankton on the night shift. She filmed the equipment they used (bongo nets, multi-net, and methot net) and the creatures they caught (squid, jellyfish, euphasiids, and fish larvae). Her engaging video summarizes of some of the research that occurs during our cruises.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks press release that was picked up for an article in the Alaska Business Magazine.
When Michele Hoffman Trotter, Columbia College, participated in our April-May cruise, educators and home school parents were invited to enroll in her educational series, Expedition Gulf of Alaska! The learning modules were geared for grades 5-12. They were titled:
Changing Climate Changing World
Biodiversity: Our Lives Depend on It, and
Plankton to Whales: How Energy Flows in the Environment.
Enrollees received a PowerPoint presentation on the topic, teaching activities, a supplemental reading list, links to the daily video uploads, and access to a forum where students could post questions to the science team and receive answers.
Schools in Alaska (Chugiak and Seward), California (1 school), Chicago (4 schools), and Canada (1 school) participated in this pilot shipboard education program aboard the R/V Sikuliaq. Her audience also included 24 homeschooling families in California and 32 adult participants. In Michele’s outreach team, Carlee Belt served as a media and education specialist and Katherine Brennan served as the cinematographer. All together, the team provided 15 daily dispatches from the ship – videos of ship operations and sampling equipment and interviews of scientists and crew. Additionally, they collected footage for the on-going Microcosm film project that will feature the diversity and roles of microscopic life in the ocean.
Alaskan teachers were a special focus of this educational outreach. Therefore, we recruited a middle school teacher in Seward (the port the Sikuliaq departed from), a high school marine biology teacher in Chugiak, and a middle school teacher from a Fairbanks watershed-themed school. These teachers were asked to pilot at least one module and will provide feedback that will help develop virtual field trip products.