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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

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.

Gulf of Alaska Peeps Huddle

About 50 scientists working on the Gulf of Alaska Integrated Ecosystem Research Project are gathered this week to talk about what they have found over the last three years. Scientists from a broad range of disciplines are sharing science, modeling, retrospectives and looking for intersections in their research that all revolve around five important species of fish. 

More is Better

More is Better

by Molly Zaleski

The Gulf of Alaska project has 5 focal fish, that we're trying to learn more about:

Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus)

Walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma)

Rockfish (Sebastes sp.)

Arrowtooth flounder (Atheresthes stomias)

Sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria)


That last one has been a tough one for us to find; this summer's survey on the Northwest Explorer resulted in only three sablefish collected! So, imagine my surprise when I was out on the Oscar Dyson fall survey and we pulled in this haul:

That's right, we single-handedly doubled the year's catch in one haul!

In total, we brought home 5 sablefish from that trip, and while that might not be much, it's a start to learn a little bit more about this elusive, tasty species! In honor of the Black Cod Five, here are 5 fun facts about sablefish:

1. Black cod aren't really gadids – they belong to the family Anoplopomatidae as opposed to cod and pollock who belong to the family Gadidae

2. Our Alaskan population of sablefish ranges from the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea through the Gulf of Alaska to Northertn British Columbia, but there's a southern population that runs along Washington, Oregon, and California!

3. Yet another common name for sablefish is “butter fish” because of their high oil content – they melt in your mouth (in the yummy way, not the gross way). My favorite way to eat these fish is smoked: so. amazingly. good!

4. The fishery is mainly a longline fishery, using a line with thousands of hooks spread along the sea floor to catch them. As the line is hauled up, some boats experience whale depredation, which is when sperm whales or killer whales pick the sablefish off the hooks and eat them!

5. There's a tagging program in Alaska NOAA scientists tag the sablefish so that when fishermen catch them, they can report the tag number to NOAA and the researchers can then learn just how far the fish might have traveled. As a “thank you” for the returned tag, you can generally get a hat!

Learn more at NOAA FishWatch!

To Everything There is a Season

November 18, 2013
by Olav Ormseth
A few days ago I returned from our last inshore survey of the 2013 field season (and the last field activity of the GOAIERP). The survey went very well, despite the challenges of short days and cold temperatures. We were blessed with weather that, while not perfect, didn’t get in the way of our research as it has sometimes done in the past. It’s always interesting to return to the same places in different seasons and see the changes that have been wrought, on land as well is in the sea. In Kiliuda Bay, the bare hills are sort of a tired brown in spring, bright green in summer, and golden in the fall (see picture). In Port Dick, a hint of termination dust was to be seen at the very top of the coastal peaks. 
In my last post we were headed north to Port Dick, and that is where we worked for the remainder of the survey. The situation there was similar to Kiliuda Bay, with fewer fish all around. We were confirmed in our belief that eelgrass patches seem to retain more fish than kelpy habitats later in the season. Why might that be? We don’t know, but one idea is that eelgrass persists year-round (although it dies back considerably) whereas many kelps disappear almost completely. So, it might be that during the winter, eelgrass simply provides the sort of protective habitat that little fish need.
We were also able to recover the mini-mooring that we had in Port Dick since May. I’ve taken a quick peek at the data and there are some interesting patterns there, including that the deeper water continues to warm even after the surface waters have begun to cool. Comparing the east and west inshore moorings should be interesting.
On the flight back from Kodiak to Anchorage, as we flew over two of our sampling sites in clear weather, I experienced a good illustration of the concept of scale as a major factor in the GOAIERP. From the viewpoint of our little skiff, the distance from the mouth of Izhut Bay to its head seems huge. But from an airplane the two areas seem very close, especially relative to the entirety of Marmot Bay and the Kodiak Island Archipelago. So it is from the perspective of a fish- or for that matter, a parcel of seawater- how different are things within a bay? How about among the various bays just on Kodiak Island? What about variability over the entire northern GOA? In the GOAIERP we are working at multiple scales, which affects everything from how we conduct our research to our interpretation of how the ecosystem works.