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.
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.
Our upcoming Seward Line cruise aboard the R/V Sikuliaq will include some special guests: educator and film-maker Michele Hoffman Trotter, media and education specialist Carlee Belt, and cinematographer Katherine Brennan. They have traveled all the way to Alaska to create a series of educational modules called “Expedition Gulf of Alaska: an Online STEAM Experience”. Additionally, they will be filming for “Microcosm”, a documentary project that features the diversity and roles of microscopic life in the ocean.
Michele is a Chicago based educator with 20+ years of experience in higher education and public outreach to general audiences. She met Dr. Russ Hopcroft, lead PI of the NGA LTER, aboard the USCGC Healy in the Chukchi Sea. They bonded over microscopic creatures and their shared interest in how the ocean functions as a system. At the time, Michele made a video introduction of her work on the cruise.
During the April/May 2018 Seward Line cruise, planned educational modules focus on three topics:
Changing Climate, Changing World
Biodiversity: Our Lives Depend On It
Plankton to Whales: How Energy Flows in the Environment
All of these modules will incorporate YouTube videos and other online material, posted daily from the ship. For example, video clips of scientific tools in use performing fieldwork will be posted. Then in the comments, students will directly question scientists about their work during the cruise.
The content targets students from grade five through twelve. As an introduction, younger students will develop a base understanding of key concepts involving the scientific method of inquiry, taxonomy, and fundamentals of ecology, chemistry, atmospheric science, and biology. Supplementary activities will give older or more advanced students chances to engage in analytical thinking. Furthermore, they will also be encouraged to apply newly acquired knowledge to contemporary scientific questions.
We are excited about the intersection between Michele’s program and the goals of the LTER Schoolyard Series. In addition to participants in Alaskan classrooms, we have participating homeschooling families in California and Illinois, and two public schools in Chicago. Additionally, approximately a dozen adults are participating in an adult education version.
In a few short days, 23 scientists and educators will embark on our first LTER cruise aboard the R/V Sikuliaq, April 18 – May 5, 2018. Cruises are integral to our research and we anticipate having three each year – in May, July, and September. This cruise continues decades of time-series of measurements of the spring phytoplankton bloom along the Seward Line. As such, its many objectives center on the physical and biological processes that generate and sustain the spring bloom.
This cruise continues the sampling begun in fall 1997 under the NSF/NOAA NE Pacific GLOBEC program, and supported subsequently a consortium of the North Pacific Research Board (NPRB), the Alaska Ocean Observing System (AOOS), and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council’s (EVOSTC) Gulf Watch. This is the first cruise as part of the NSF’s Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-term Ecological Program (NGA-LTER). The core scientific purpose of the Seward Line project is to develop an understanding of the response and resiliency of this marine ecosystem to climate variability. This cruise marks the 21st consecutive spring cruise for the Seward Line in the NGA, including Prince William Sound (PWS), and the 48th year of observations at GAK1.
Determine thermohaline, velocity, light, and oxygen structure of the NGA shelf.
Determine macro- and micro-nutrient structure of the NGA shelf.
Share the experience through outreach/media activities.
To achieve the objectives, the cruise will visit four cross-shelf transect lines plus stations within Prince William Sound. At each station, operations will be divided into day and night tasks. In the day, we will perform CTD measurements, bottle sampling, and perform intensive sampling and productivity experiments at selected locations. At night, net tows for zooplankton will catch the critters when they rise in the water column to feed. The shortness of high latitude nights in May will mean more daylight work than nighttime work.
The LTER program networks (now) 28 individual research sites. LTER’s unique ecological investigations measure changes over years and decades in various environments. Each LTER site involves dozens of researchers and depends on partnerships with hosting entities like universities, national forests, or non-profit organizations. There are other LTER sites in Alaska: Bonanza Creek and Toolik Lake, and another new marine site in the Beaufort Lagoons.
The Seward Line is a long-term observational program on the Gulf of Alaska shelf. It was originally undertaken by the Northeast Pacific GLOBEC program from 1998–2004. During the years 2005–2009, sampling along the Seward Line continued with funding from the North Pacific Research Board. Most recently, funding has come from a consortium of NPRB, AOOS, and EVOS (see our Site History.)
The purpose of our research has been to develop an understanding of the response of this marine ecosystem to climate variability. Hence, the Seward Line cruises determine the physical and chemical oceanographic structure, the primary production, and the distribution and abundance of zooplankton. We then examine the seasonal and inter-annual variations in these measurements.
LTER -A New Partner
Having a new partner in the funding consortium will enable expansion of our program’s elements. For instance, a third annual cruise will be performed between the two cruises in May and September. In addition, we’ll be able to perform more in-depth experiments on the processes that enable the high productivity in the Northern Gulf of Alaska area. And finally, the LTER Network’s emphasis on education, outreach, and data availability will also encourage growth in these areas.