Thursday, August 15, 2013

ACES 2013 Field Season

The Arctic Coastal Ecosystems Survey (ACES) is focused on nearshore and lagoon communities of the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea surrounding Point Barrow, AK. These communities are subsisted on by local peoples of the north slope of Alaska, and are expected to be sensitive to climate change and increasing human interferences associated with commercial fishing, trafficking, and oil exploration. Our research will establish a baseline to observe changes in these communities as these interferences progress. The target species are those with potential for fisheries and abundant fish that are expected to play a large role in trophic dynamics (cod, salmon, char, smelt, capelin, sandlance, sculpin, whitefish). 

The project consists of three major components: (1) Beach seining (2) Acoustics (3) Trawling

The beach seining portion has been underway since the 11th of July and will continue until the end of August. This sampling effort documents the progressive change of community structure, growth and trophic interaction along the shores of the Chukchi, Beaufort and the Elson Lagoon throughout the summer shift from ice covered waters to open water. 

So far we have seen great fluctuation in community structure that seems to be related to weather, water temperature, and salinity but analysis of these relationships will confirm this. We have seen anadromous fish such as salmon, whitefish, and dolly varden char, to bottom dwelling fish such as sandlance, sculpins, cod, shanny, prickelbacks, and flounders. And pelagic fish such as capelin and smelt, crustaceans and plankton. The target species are those with potential for fisheries and abundant fish that are expected to play a large role in trophic transfer (cod, salmon, char, smelt, capelin, sculpin, whitefish). 

The acoustics portion has just begun in the nearshore sites using an unmanned sampling vessel (USV). This vessel is equipped with several sonar devices and the ability to drive itself across a preprogrammed pattern while collecting sonar data. This data will be used to map the bottom topography of the nearshore, and quantify the distribution of fish biomass and abundance. 

Furthermore, similar sonar devices will be used on the trawling vessel to quantify the distribution of fish biomass and abundance along transects perpendicular to the shorelines. The trawling portion of the project has yet to begin, but the fish collected will be processed and analyzed in the same way as those from the beach seines to allow for comparison.

Eventually, the data collected in the ACES project will be used to quantify and qualify the importance of the Arctic nearshore, and this blog will continue to update you on our progress throughout our field season.

This is the ACES beach survey crew from left to right: Ann Robertson (NOAA), Sam George (ANSEP), and Mark Barton (FIU)

 When setting the seine net we use a small dinghy to close the net as fast as possible to avoid letting fish escape.
 Our typical catch consists of larval fish and zooplankton. Though these fish may not be valuable to the average person, these fish and zooplankton are incredibly important for the proper functioning of ecosystems.
 When moving between sampling sites someone always keeps a high power firearm handy in case we run into an angry bear and need to defend ourselves. Though this situation would be a last resort and will be avoided at all costs if possible.
 A strong West wind pushed all the ice onto the nearshore so I tried to catch fish as the Walrus do... the net remains more effective though...
 Some of the sampling sites are remote and require us to cross some challenging terrain. In order to put the odds in our favor we spread the weight across our 3 ATVs. Inadvertently, we created the first amphibious ATV prototype, it has never been tested and we hope it never will.
 In our first week of sampling these jellyfish lined the beaches. They are a pain to pull out of the net but they sure are pretty!
 It is amazing to thing this giant iceberg was pushed onto the beach by wind and waves. It is even more amazing to think that 24 hours later this iceberg had been dislodged from its seemingly permanent position on the beach and floated out of site.
 Shorts and flip-flops in the Arctic circle. Its almost as if the climate is getting warmer...
 "I don't think we can set our net here today guys..."
 Sculpins are essentially mouths with tails. This particular 263mm sculpin (right) ate a 178mm sculpin (left). That is more than 2/3s its own length!
 Sometimes ice conditions make it impossible to set our net, but is important to stay positive like Ann.
The USV during sea trials. FIU Panther Power!!!!
 Getting ready to send the USV, now named Nanuq during a competition between local school kids, on its maiden voyage in the Arctic Ocean
 This Bowhead whale was landed by local natives and was shared with the entire community during the Nalukatak whaling festival.

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