Now Archived! PolarConnect event with Lisa Seff and the 'Upwelling and Ecology in the Beaufort Sea Research Team' held on 14 September 2017. This event was broadcast live from the R/V Sikuliaq located in the Beaufort Sea. You can access this and other events on the PolarConnect Archives site.
What Are They Doing?
The Beaufort Sea shelf break experiences frequent upwelling of deep, nutrient rich basin water onto the shelf. Such upwelling is not only a short-term source of heat, salt, and nutrients, and a mechanism promoting elevated primary production, but it also transports populations between ocean regions, potentially modifying ecosystem structure and availability of zooplankton and fish prey to upper trophic level consumers. The Beaufort Sea shelf break is a domain of enhanced abundance of upper trophic level animals, presumably in response to elevated availability of their prey.
The team plans to explore and identify the mechanisms linking broad-scale atmospheric forcing, ocean physical response, prey-base condition and distribution, upper trophic level animal aggregations, and climate change along the Beaufort Shelf break. The team's overarching hypothesis is that atmospherically-forced (wind-induced) upwelling along this shelf break leads to enhanced feeding opportunities for intermediate links in the pelagic ecosystem (zooplankton, forage fish) that in turn sustain the exploitation of this environment by animals such as beluga whales, seabirds, and seals. Support for the teacher is provided through the research project funding.
Where Are They?
The field work will take place in the Beaufort Sea aboard the R/V Sikuliaq. The Beaufort Sea is part of the Arctic Ocean. The R/V Sikuliaq, pronounced [see-KOO-lee-auk], is a 261-foot oceanographic research ship capable of bringing scientists to the ice-choked waters of Alaska and the polar regions. The Sikuliaq, one of the most advanced university research vessels in the world, is able to break ice up to 2.5 feet thick.
The Beaufort Sea is a sea of the Arctic Ocean, located north of the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Alaska, west of Canada's Arctic islands. The sea is named after hydrographer Sir Francis Beaufort. The sea, characterized by severe climate, is frozen over most of the year. Historically, only a narrow pass up to 100 km (62 mi) opened in August–September near its shores, but recently the ice-free area in late summer has greatly enlarged.
Dr. Carin Ashjian studies marine biology and ecology with a special interest in the ecology of zooplankton in the Polar Regions, as these ecosystems may be significantly impacted by climate change. Her studies have taken her to both the Arctic and the Antarctic. For eleven years, she worked near Utqiaġvik/Barrow AK using a research vessel to study how and why this region is a feeding hotspot for bowhead whales during their fall migration from Canada to the Bering Sea. She also has worked from much larger research vessels, the USCGC Healy and the R/V SIkuliaq, to study zooplankton in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. Past research has taken her to the Sea of Japan, the Norwegian Sea, Georges Bank, the Gulf Stream, and the California Current. She is a Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where she has worked since 1995.
Dr. Steve Okkonen has two jobs. For the past 37 years, he has spent the summer months as a commercial salmon fisherman in Cook Inlet, Alaska. Over the last 20 years, he has spent the fall, winter, and spring months as a University of Alaska Fairbanks physical oceanographer studying ocean currents in Alaskan waters. Most recently, he has worked with Dr. Carin Ashjian, Dr. Robert Campbell and whale biologists to find out why the Barrow area is a feeding hotspot for bowhead whales and beluga whales. They are now expanding their study to identify relationships between ocean currents and the migration of bowhead whales.