Chukchi Sea Ecosystem Study

What Are They Doing?

Lowering sampling instruments into the Chukchi SeaLowering sampling instruments into the Chukchi Sea This project attempted to understand the role of carbon resources to the food webs of the Chukchi Sea, off the northwest coast of Alaska. The northern Chukchi Shelf receives large inputs of organic matter transported from the highly productive shelf regions of the North Pacific and from existing sources of primary production, including ice algae, sediment microalgae and phytoplankton. These contributions of highly changing organic carbon, together with potential benthic (from the bottom of the sea) sources of nutrients, likely contribute to the enormous secondary production (production of living material by organisms) of this region. In particular, the relatively shallow depths (40-55 m) and high bottom flow have created "hotspots" of biological productivity found in the vicinity of the Hanna Shoal region of the Chukchi Sea.

The research team included scientists from seven institutions and two federal agencies. The work took place over dozens of existing sampling stations and involved collaboration with other science studies in the region sponsored by federal, state, or industry interests. Due to the biological significance of this region and its importance for oil and gas exploration and development, the group examined the range of biological, chemical, and physical properties that define this ecosystem.

The group focused their efforts on the Hanna Shoal region, with the addition of a pelagic (from the open ocean) component to address standing stocks of phytoplankton and zooplankton, and a physical oceanographic study that addressed water mass movements through direct measurement of circulation, density, and ice conditions.

Where Are They?

USCGC HealyUSCGC Healy The team lived and worked on the United States Coast Guard Icebreaker Healy as they traveled off the northwest coast of Alaska to the Chukchi Sea. The USCGC Healy was designed for icebreaking and polar research and can accommodate up to 50 scientists. The USCGC Healy is designed to break 1.2 meters (4 feet) of ice continuously at 3 knots and can operate in temperatures as low as -45 degrees C (-50 degrees F).


 Christina at the box sieve
If you see a flash of a blonde haired female scientist on the deck that seems to be everywhere at once, then that would be Dr. Jackie (Jacqueline) Grebmeier from the University of Maryland. Her team is studying various parameters such as the ecological forces or biological factors of the benthos (bottom dwellers) in the Chukchi Sea with emphasis on the Hanna Shoal region. They run various chemical analysis of the CTD water too. For example, the ratio of isotopes in the water (O18 to O16) can determine how much of the fresh water lens originates from melt water from sea ice versus runoff...
Barrow We made an amphibious landing onto the beach in Barrow, the northern most United States city. Barrow is located on the North Slope of Alaska in the tundra (a treeless plain). The community is traditionally known as Ukpeagvik, “place where snowy owls are hunted.” Barge on the Beach Welcome to Barrow Tundra Cotton Grass Anchorage Today August 16th, we fly from Barrow to Anchorage, the largest city north of the 60th parallel. Since we had most of today to spend in town, we walked on a trail. The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is a walking and bike path that starts near 4th...
Preparing zodiac for launch.
Ice Fishing It is not what you think...cutting a hole in the ice and catching fish. I mean literally ice fishing; fishing for ice to collect ice algae as mentioned in "You are what you eat.". In the rain on August 10th, two zodiacs were lowered one at a time down the side of the ship. One boat was designated as the science collectors (seven people) and the other as observers (8 total), including Coast Guard personal. We had a maximum collecting capacity of 400 lbs of ice. I was in the observer boat that turned into a collecting boat due to an over zealous PhD student. Preparing zodiac...
Trophic Levels
Trophic levels provided by Nathan McTigue. In past Dunton Team journals I have discussed a myriad of topics dealing with benthos "Benthic Organisms and More..." and "What's Going on in the Mud Part 1 and 2." It does not stop here...there is more! Water and sediment chemistry, and plankton samples were taken too. Why? To help us better understand arctic food webs and how they respond to natural and anthropogenic (man-induced) changes. Are arctic food webs resilient? What are the major food sources for the rich benthic and pelagic fauna of the Chukchi Sea? We can begin to answer these...
Oceanographers are similar to meteorologist; they both predict patterns based on computer models and have an understanding of how different variables affect a system. Both air and water currents have fronts. Two water masses that come together with differences in temperature and salinity create a front of water; which is analogous to air fronts created in the troposphere by differences in air masses' temperature. Last year oceanographer Dr. Tom Weingartner (University of Alaska Fairbanks) and his team released oceanographic moorings and satellite-tracked drifters off the Healy. Data...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

25 July 2013 to 15 August 2013
Location: USCGC Healy
Project Funded Title: Chukchi Sea Offshore Monitoring in Drilling Area (COMIDA): The Hanna Shoal Ecosystem Study

Meet the Team

Andrea Skloss's picture
Brundrett Middle School

Prior to her 26 year career in education, Andrea Skloss earned her undergraduate degree in marine biology with a chemistry minor and a masters in curriculum and instruction. She has been an Eleanor Roosevelt Fellow and Texas Teacher of the Year. She has worked on a sea turtle telemetry project with the culminating event to release hatchlings in Playa Dos Mexico. In addition she has participated in the National Park Service Teacher to Ranger to Teacher experience on Padre Island National Seashore, conducting interactive beach walks, creating curriculum and operating as event spokesperson during public hatchling releases.

Through her involvement with a GK-12 project, Ms. Skloss has utilized many graduate fellows in the classroom to demonstrate to students that scientists do cool and amazing research. Currently she has a PhD graduate fellow working with students on a yearlong project measuring environmental variables at two sites. For over ten years, she has belonged to a science collaborative undergoing hundreds of hours in content acquisition and learning the latest technology and teaching strategies.

Her message to her students is we all should be lifelong learners. "Be kind to the planet" is her motto. Since the 7th grade she has had a love for the marine environment based on a classroom exposure. She feels strongly that, "As teachers, we have an amazing impact on our students". Ms. Skloss enjoys traveling nationally and internationally. She has two married sons and a granddaughter.

Ken Dunton's picture
The University of Texas at Austin
Port Aransas, TX
United States

Dr. Kenneth Dunton is a biological oceanographer whose research is focused on estuarine, coastal, and shelf processes. Although his work spans from the Arctic to the Antarctic, his continuous studies of the arctic coastal ecosystem have spanned three decades. Dr. Dunton became involved with arctic studies involving kelp beds in 1977. His research also includes examining the distribution and biomass of benthic biota and the application of stable isotopic signatures to assess changes in trophic structure. Such measurements can help identify processes that are sentinel indicators of global change.

He has continued this work in the Chukchi Sea under funding from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and under a grant from the NSF to examine the linkages between watersheds and the nearshore lagoons of the eastern Alaskan Beaufort Sea. Dr. Dunton has published more than 80 peer-reviewed papers and has supervised over 20 graduate students and 11 post-doctoral fellows. He is active in K-12 outreach, obtaining two NSF grants that partner teachers and graduate students in K-12 classrooms. He implemented the annual summer science field program for kids in 2008 in partnership with the City of Port Aransas and the Port Aransas school district. He also implemented a summer science program for the native school children of Kaktovik, Alaska, on the Beaufort Sea coast in conjunction with the Arctic Refuge (USF&WS) that started in 2007. He obtained his BSc in biology from the University of Maine in 1975, his MS from Western Washington in 1977, and his PhD in oceanography from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks in 1986.

Dr. Dunton is currently a professor in marine science at the University of Texas at Austin. He has lived in Port Aransas since he and his wife Susan arrived from Fairbanks in 1986. They have three grown children, two of whom graduated from TAMU College Station and one from UT-Austin. He routinely cycles, surfs and swims. Learn more about Dr. Dunton here and here.

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