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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)

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.

LTER All Scientists’ Meeting, 2018

Investigators with the Northern Gulf of Alaska LTER program will be traveling to Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, California for the 2018 All Scientists’ Meeting, October 1-4. More information will be posted here as the time of the meeting draws near.

Several posters will be presented that relate to NGA LTER research. They include:

Sikuliaq Cruise, May 2018

R/V Sikuliaq

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.

Scientific Purpose

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.

Cruise Objectives

NGA map
Map of Northern Gulf of Alaska sampling stations, 2018.

  1. Determine thermohaline, velocity, light, and oxygen structure of the NGA shelf.
  2. Determine macro- and micro-nutrient structure of the NGA shelf.
  3. Determine particle structure and flux rates of the NGA shelf.
  4. Determine phyto- and microzooplankton composition, biomass distribution, and productivity.
  5. Determine the vertical and horizontal distribution and abundance of zooplankton species (including macro-jellies).
  6. Record multi-frequency acoustics for estimation of nekton
  7. Conduct surveys of seabirds and Marine Mammals
  8. Conduct shipboard experimental work on phyto- and zooplankton.
  9. Determine carbonate chemistry (i.e. Ocean Acidification) at selected stations
  10. Recover and redeploy the GAK1 mooring. Drag for lost mooring at GAK 4 and Gak8i.
  11. Provide at-sea experience for UAF students.
  12. Share the experience through outreach/media activities.

Sampling Plan

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.

Cruise Planning

photo of notes

Right now, we are planning our next cruise which will be aboard the R/V Sikuliaq in mid-April 2018. There are a lot of elements that must be balanced when planning a cruise. Of course, time, money (including that for processing samples later on shore), and the program objectives all influence the cruise plan, but there are many other facets to consider.


For one thing, there are logistical elements that limit where the cruise must start and in what order the stations will happen. These include:

  • Towing for zooplankton must be done during the day, when they are high enough in the water column to catch
  • Productivity experiments must be done during the day when there is sunlight
  • Time spent traveling between sampling locations (deadheading) must be minimized
  • Equipment and personnel must be delivered to and retrieved from the ship

In addition, we must incorporate elements of previous studies to insure continuity between measurements:

  • EcoFOCI sampling stations over the productive sub-marine banks
  • Prince William Sound stations (which can’t be in the shipping lanes)
  • The timing of Seward Line stations with respect to the Spring Bloom

And unfortunately, bad weather can impact the best made plans.

photo of bad weather
Photo by Lisa Seff, Sept. 2017 aboard the Sikuliaq