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It’s All in the Details

It's all the details of the navigation charts….

NOAA’s Mark Zimmerman is making some detailed maps with antique information that turns out to provide even more detail about the bottom of the Gulf of Alaska – helpful stuff to fisheries managers and researchers. 
When the National Oceanic Surveys (NOS) conducted surveys of the bottom of the Gulf of Alaska almost a century ago, the information was used to create the marine navigation charts that we all use on the water. However, when creating the navigation chart, the NOS used only about 1% of the information that was collected from the bottom of the ocean. When NOS digitized the original paper surveys, they left out a lot of the details. Now Mark Zimmerman’s team at NOAA is going back to those paper charts and collecting the details. 
“It’s like when we drive our car on a road there are signs that tell us when to stop, where the cross walks are and when to slow down, “says Zimmerman, the NOAA “ The maps we are making now,” says Zimmerman, “tell us where the potholes are.” These new maps have far more details than navigation charts. The old paper surveys show where all the bumps and dips are on the ocean floor, for example, and those bumps are dips are fish habitat. When NOAA surveys the bottom of the ocean for bottom dwelling fish its useful to know when the bottom is going to be too steep or too rough to sample using a bottom trawl and where other methods can be employed to count fish. 
For the Gulf of Alaska Integrated Ecosystem Project, these new charts are used to help look at habitat where juvenile fish may be hanging out and when Zimmerman combines his NOS “antique chart” data with GIS topographical information from topo charts he can calculate a whole new set of useful information about marine habitat in the bays and inlets of the Gulf of Alaska. He can calculate how much volume of water there is in a bay, or how much area is covered by kelp beds or rocky reefs. His chart work is being used by NOAA scientists Kalei Shotwell and Jodi Pirtle to make predictive models for where the five species of commercially important groundfish may be found. Go here for more information!

Warmer Temps in the Gulf of Alaska

Warmer Temps in the Gulf of Alaska

NPRB funded researcher Russ Hopcroft was looking at warmer temperatures in the waters of the Gulf of Alaska this summer

Most Alaskans would comment on how unusual the summer weather has been during 2014.  The same applies to the waters in the Gulf of Alaska – it’s been a hot one!  Ocean surface temperatures there were a comfy 55-57°F. A team of scientists that have been studying the Alaskan shelf south of Seward, Alaska, found the upper 300 feet of the ocean to be from 1 to 5°F warmer than the September average they have measured over the past 17 years.  “It was like working in a bath tub out there” said chief scientist Professor Russ Hopcroft, “except for the wind and 12 foot swell. This year was more than 1 degree warmer than any other year we have studied.”

The warm temperatures are partly a result of an unsual winter that left the distant offshore water of the Gulf far warmer than normal. A warm water anomaly in the tropical Pacific Ocean may have further added to the warming. Together, they have created warmer summer waters from Southeastern Alaska through the Bering Sea.  While this might be great if you’re a swimmer, warmer temperatures can have large consequences to marine life that are accustomed to colder year-round temperatures.  Some colder-water species experience hard times when water is too warm for them. Consequences may have been mixed for other species, for example, while some fish grow more quickly in warm water, they also burn more calories at warmer temperatures, so need to find much more food. 

During warm years, coastal currents also tend to bring more warm water species northward.  The team lead by University of Alaska researchers found unusually large numbers of warmer water plankton species during their survey. Months of laboratory work analyzing plankton samples will be required to know the extent of their invasion.  NOAA partners studying ocean acidification have had a small armada of self-contained robotic devices out monitoring the physics and chemistry of the shelf and the nearby Prince William Sound since their last cruise in May.  This will provide an unprecedented look at the seasonal progression during this unusual year.

The ability of scientists to keep their fingers on the pulse of the ocean has been increasing progressively over the past decades. An army of profiling drifters monitors temperature and salinity in the deep oceans beyond the continental shelf.  Satellites have also been able to follow the development of these warm conditions at the ocean’s surface.  But understanding the details of what is happening on the Alaskan shelf – and most importantly its biological consequences – requires regular ship-based surveys that are in place to capture extreme events such as 2014. The North Pacific Research Board, Alaska Ocean Observing System and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council have formed a consortium to ensure such information is collected in Alaska and distribute that information to the public as soon as it becomes available.

Warmer Temps in the Gulf of Alaska

The Mystery of Sablefish Survival

GOAIERP scientists study what environmental conditions and habitats are important in sablefish survival

In 2008, a team of scientists at the Auke Bay Laboratories initiated several dedicated research projects aimed at understanding ecological and management issues concerning Alaska sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria). One of these projects is led by Dr. Kalei Shotwell and deals specifically with exploring the driving mechanisms surrounding the highly variable and uncertain survival of young sablefish.  The project began with two main goals: 1) determine if an index of young sablefish could be created from historical data and 2) investigate whether measures of the environment can be used in a model to predict the survival of these young fish. Toward the first goal, Dr. Shotwell collected the available data from short-term surveys and found that it was not consistent enough in space and time to be used within the current sablefish assessment model. However, the information can be used for helping understand the best habitat for young sablefish to settle upon after their long journey to the nearshore. Dr. Shotwell along with Dr. Jodi Pirtle of the Benthic Habitat Project will be using this information to develop habitat suitability models and maps to characterize the nearshore benthic habitat for sablefish and the other focal species. These maps will be used by several components of the GOA Project, specifically the modeling component to inform their individual based model trajectories.


The search for environmental predictors for the second goal of Dr. Shotwell’s sablefish project has led to investigating ways to include environmental information in stock assessment. The first breakthrough was the discovery of a relationship between the North Pacific Polar Front and sablefish survival (Shotwell et al. 2014). Colder than average wintertime measures of this large-scale ocean feature in the central North Pacific were found to create good survival conditions for young sablefish. This relationship led Dr. Shotwell and her co-authors (Dr. Dana Hanselman and Dr. Igor Belkin) to put forward a conceptual model of sablefish early-life survival which was termed the ODDS model for Ocean Domain Dynamic Synergy. It is basically a description of the pressures that might influence the survival of young sablefish as they journey from where they are born in the deep ocean slope, through their ride on the waves of the ocean gauntlet, and finally as they settle to their habitat homes in the nearshore. Answering the “What are the Odds?” question for sablefish has led Dr. Shotwell to work with several researchers (GOA Project included) to consider the influence of other environmental measures such as mesoscale eddies, upwelling, freshwater output, nearshore production, pink salmon competitors, and seabird predators. The results of these projects are forthcoming and when completed Dr. Shotwell plans to work with the lead authors of these projects to collect the relevant indicators that will serve as time series that support the ODDS model of early-life survival. These indicators will be compiled in an annual graphical report card to be included in the individual stock assessment reports. The sablefish ODDS report card may be used to assist scientists and managers in understanding what may influence sablefish survival and also visually see the changes of these environmental indicators over time.


Literature Cited:

Shotwell, S.K., D.H. Hanselman, and I.M. Belkin. 2014. Toward biophysical synergy: Investigating advection along the Polar Front to identify factors influencing Alaska sablefish recruitment. Deep-Sea Reaserch II. Special Issue, Fronts, Fish and Top Predators.

Warmer Temps in the Gulf of Alaska

Ironclad Science

Iron analysis sheds light on productivity of Gulf of Alaska

Iron is a nutrient that is needed in small quantities, but has a big impact on life in the Gulf of Alaska. Dr. Ana Aguilar-Islas is a chemical oceanographer at the University of Alaska School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences who is looking at the how, where and when of iron in the Gulf. Iron is especially important to tiny plant-like organisms – the phytoplankton. When there is sufficient iron relative to other nutrients, the more phytoplankton can produce and that can have cascading effects considered good for fish productivity. 
Last summer Dr. Aguilar-Islas's lab collected iron samples around the Gulf of Alaska and now she and her lab are doing the hard work of sample processing and analysis. Studying iron requires a sterile laboratory, because there is so little of it in seawater. The analysis of iron requires a clean work space where researchers wear special coats, gloves, headcover and shoes. The clean lab is kept to assure that iron from the outside in the form of dust, skin, and dirt doesn’t contaminate the water samples. People who work in the lab filter the collected seawater to separate iron into different sizes, and then using mass spectroscopy – a way to separate elements by their mass – they examine the iron itself. Marie Seguret is pictured here working in the lab.

Kittiwakes, Herring and Anemones, Oh My!

North Pacific Research Board announces 2014 photo contest winners.

The North Pacific Research Board (NPRB) awarded a total of over $3000 to the winners of the 2014 installment of its annual photo contest. The winning images from the 2014 contest will be featured alongside 2013 contest winners in the 2015 NPRB calendar, which will be available to the public for free in January 2015. View the winning images.

Congratulations to all the photographers!

In the adult category,

First place: Nesting kittiwakes escape calving at Northland Glacier (Blackstone Bay, Prince William Sound) by Bill Rome of Eagle River
Second place: Sac roe herring fishery in Sitka Sound by Glenn Aronwits of Anchorage
Third place: Anemones in Sitka Harbor by Ward Hulbert of Anchorage

In the youth category,

First place: The remains of decaying dead pink salmon create a striking pattern by Lione Clare of Sitka
Second place: No bird in sight by Meret Beutler of Seward
Third place:  Living on the edge by Meret Beutler of Seward