The Science we support
The North Pacific Research Board directs research towards species, processes, and dynamics in the marine ecosystems of Alaska, including the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea, the Aleutian Islands, and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in the Arctic. Each of these systems is structured by a unique set of physical attributes that interact with dynamic environmental processes. Layered on top of seasonal and annual variability, decadal oscillations in climate and surface dynamics influence heat flux, ice formation, precipitation, winds, advection, mixing, and nutrient cycling in ways that affect both the amount and the pathways for production and energy transfer as well as the structure of the ecosystem. Changes in the ecosystem may in turn have significant impacts on resources and humans. Variability in ecosystem dynamics may be manifested as inter-annual changes in the productivity of component species, and trends in rates of recruitment, individual growth, mortality, and dispersal. Aggregate changes in species may lead to large shifts in overall ecosystem structure over time.
At the core of NPRB’s Science Plan are three scientific foundations that reflect current understanding of large marine ecosystems, the processes that make them so dynamic, and how humans affect and are effected by ecosystem change.
SCIENCE PRIORITIES & APPROACHES
From ocean chemistry to marine mammals and everything in between, NPRB has identified six broad ecosystem science priorities and four integrated science approaches. These approaches include community and industry involvement, technology development, and data rescue. Click below for more details.
Applications to Management
One of the main pillars of the NPRB research program is to improve and inform fishery management. This includes improving stock assessment, identify processes that influence recruitment growth and survival, forecasting future conditions and stock dynamics, and many more applications. Click below for more details.
The word community can mean many different things, especially in Alaska where communities (regional, industry, Alaska native, etc.) that depend on marine resources as a source of employment, subsistence, recreation, and as a way of life are quite diverse. How these communities are engaged and included in the research process plays an important role in NPRB science funding.
Maintaining healthy habitats is essential to ecosystem-based management. Pelagic, benthic, coastal, nearshore, and intertidal habitats all help to support marine ecosystems. There is an ongoing need for basic research to characterize habitat features and their relationships to marine organisms. Information on the characterization of habitat features, distribution of those features, and better understanding of the ecosystem function of specific habitat features is needed.
Oceanography & PRODUCTIVITY
NPRB will consider supporting research that examines the physical, chemical, and biological processes that drive primary and secondary production at the base of the food web. Knowledge of such processes will be needed to improve understanding of ecosystem dynamics and to predict how climate change will impact the transfer of energy through the lower trophic levels. Ocean productivity is inextricably linked to physical processes that distribute nutrients, organisms, and other materials vertically throughout the water column and laterally throughout the coastal and deeper ocean.
NPRB is interested in studies that improve or develop new technologies to measure physical, chemical, and biological variables in the marine environment. NPRB is also interested in research that apply existing techniques or new approaches to research in novel ways. This category encourages development of new technologies and the validation of existing methodologies under new applications.
Fishes & Invertebrates
The North Pacific supports rich assemblages of fishes and invertebrates, as well as the largest fisheries in the U.S. These species assemblages are extremely important ecologically, economically, and socially. Given the relatively pristine conditions in Alaska, fishing is the human activity that has the greatest impact on both targeted and non-targeted populations in the North Pacific. Resource managers must have available to them information about how the ecosystem functions, a fundamental understanding of the distribution and population dynamics of fish stocks, and the relative influence of fishing and environmental variability in those processes.
Marine Birds & Mammals
Marine mammals are among the more visible and engaging components of the marine ecosystem and are often considered to be sentinels of how an ecosystem is functioning. However, many aspects of the life history or physiology of marine bird and mammal species remain poorly understood. Research on the biology of marine birds and mammals is of interest across a wide variety of areas, including population assessment and modeling, species distribution and movement patterns, ecology and physiology, and how human and environmental factors affect individuals and populations.
Research in this area is not intended to support new data collection, but rather the collection, preservation, archival, and dissemination of existing data currently in inaccessible forms. Data rescue may include efforts directed toward the preservation of specimens in permanent archives, transfer of outdated electronic records to current archiving methods, and transcription of hard copy records to accessible electronic formats.
Cooperative Research With Industry
Cooperative research with industry entails engaging industry partners and leveraging industry insight and infrastructure to address pressing industry management needs, improve shared understanding between science and industry, and support marine observations. Cooperative research efforts must ensure the scientific integrity, practicality, and cost-effectiveness of the experimental design and facilitate the ready application of the results to
alter fishery management, should such alteration is beneficial or required. Cost effectiveness, practicality, acceptability, and utility must be key design criteria.
Increasingly, important questions require research that examines synergistic or causal effects across components of the ecosystem or research that applies tools and approaches that integrate multiple scientific disciplines. To recognize these needs and to accommodate an increasing amount of research that already meets these criteria, NPRB has developed a research category to accommodate analyses that encompass multiple ecosystem components or processes or research that is interdisciplinary in nature.
Humans are part of sustainable ecosystems, which contribute to human health and wealth and provide profit, employment, nutrition, subsistence, cultural identity, spiritual connection, and inspiration. NPRB funds a variety of social, economic and management-related research intended to advance the role of social sciences, citizen science, and/or local and traditional knowledge in the analysis of interactions between humans, resource management, and the marine environment. It is important to study how the dynamics of marine ecosystem functions and processes impact individuals, communities, industries, and society as a whole and how humans adapt to these changing marine environments.
NPRB’s commitment to community involvement provides individuals and community-based organizations with ways to identify and pursue research interests and priorities important to coastal communities. For this purpose, “community” is defined as a group with a common geographic, occupational, or cultural base. Research in this area might include addressing questions that originate in Alaska coastal communities and projects that include citizen science. The intent is that projects designated under this approach must be initiated or co-designed by local communities.
Addressing Fisheries Management Questions
Many scientific disciplines address important fishery management questions and their applications, including: improving stock assessment; identifying processes that influence recruitment growth and survival; understanding the influence of the environment on valued natural resources; monitoring and understanding the implications of ecosystem interactions; forecasting future conditions and stock dynamics; quantifying and reducing adverse impacts of gear or industrial activities on marine habitat or non-target species; conservation engineering to improve selectivity of fishing gears; optimizing resource extraction, processing or use; and understanding the drivers and implications of industry and fleet behavior and response.
Identifying and monitoring ecosystem indicators
There is an ongoing need for research that informs trends and time series analysis and provides or identifies indices that might provide insight to the functioning and/or changes in systems.
Development of baselines, reference points and metrics
Monitoring is critical to providing a baseline understanding of ecosystem conditions and stock status from which to measure change. There is an ongoing need for research that evaluates current methods and developing improved methods for calculating reference points.
Refinement of physical and biological parameters
Models and forecasts depend on input parameters and are constantly improved through increasingly informative data. There is an ongoing need for research designed to identify critical physical and biological parameters, characterize their effects on important stocks, and develop reliable and cost-effective methods to monitor these parameters.
Improvement of models and forecasts
Integration of processes, interactions, and ecosystem components to address management objectives
Fisheries management has been continually evolving to integrate the principles and practices inherent to integrated ecosystem assessments and ecosystem based management. It is therefore important to consider not only the effect of fishing on target species, but also on other species that have strong ecological links to that target species.
Informing community and industry interests and needs
Human communities and Industries
NPRB funds a variety of social, economic and management-related research intended to advance the role of social sciences, citizen science, and/or local and traditional knowledge in the analysis of interactions between humans, resource management, and the marine environment. Motivation for this avenue of research builds on the perspective that humans are part of sustainable ecosystems, which contribute to human health and wealth and provide profit, employment, nutrition, subsistence, cultural identity, spiritual connection, and inspiration.
Alaska Coastal COmmunities
The Alaska coastline extends 6,640 miles (10,690 km), more than the entire rest of the coastal U.S. This area is home to many communities that depend on marine resources as a source of employment, subsistence, recreation, and as a way of life. NPRB aims to develop research that is useful to local communities – to learn more about the systems, species, processes, and dynamics that occur offshore and their relative influence on ocean conditions and/or the availability, distribution, abundance of marine resources, and community access. NPRB encourages efforts to involve coastal communities, solicit research interests and ideas from coastal residents, and develop effective outreach approaches to communicate the results of research to interested and affected communities.
Alaska Native Communities
For thousands of years Alaska Native communities have retained a unique cultural connection to and dependency on the marine environment. Their traditional knowledge and perspectives help inform our understanding of marine processes and species. Partnerships between Native communities and researchers can enhance projects and are highly encouraged, as is proposed research from Alaska Native communities. Formal collaborations between research entities within Native communities and/or regional organizations and agency or academic research initiatives are also welcome.
Commercial fisheries that operate in this region represent an important constituency with a vested interest in maintaining ecosystem and species health and abundance. These industries constitute a source of knowledge and insight and serve as important partners in furthering research and understanding of the species, processes, mechanisms, and interactions in the marine systems of the North Pacific. Their socio-economic impact on the region includes significant labor income and economic output.
Other Maritime Industries
In addition to commercial fisheries, several other maritime industries comprise a significant component of the Alaskan economy and have both impacts on and interest in the marine environment. These industries include sport fisheries, mining and resource extraction, tourism, and international and local shipping. Potential new energy investments in offshore wind and tidal power also may have impacts on the environment, particularly related to benthic environments, current and flow, sessile invertebrates, and nearshore fishes and invertebrates. All of these industries may provide insightful observations, important resources, and useful platforms for data collection and are valued partners in furthering marine science.