Thursday, August 22, 2013

Nanuqs vs. Nanuks

This week started with a thrilling experience. We were ferried to Cooper Island where George Divoky has spent the last 40 summers studying a nesting colony of Black Guillemots. These birds are an excellent model organism for the effects of retreating sea ice on nearshore Arctic animals. These birds create nests inside cavities, which George has provided in Nanuk cases to help protect the birds from real Nanuqs (Polar Bears). There are many videos to be seen on YouTube showing polar bears trying to get the birds out with no avail.

As the chicks develop the adults are constantly searching for food for them to eat. Their favorite food is Arctic Cod, one of our target species, which is mainly found near sea ice. George has found that the birds are struggling to provide for their chicks during years in which sea ice is further offshore. In those years many of the birds have switched to a less nutritious, but more readily available prey item, the sculpins. The guillemots are not the only species that preys on the nearshore fish that ACES is interested in, but it exemplifies why it is important to better understand these marine ecosystems.

 George Divoky shows off two guillemot chicks
 This is the modified Nanuk case. It has an entrance drilled on one side with a baffle to hide the chicks from predators that may peak through the entrance. These cases give the birds a secure nesting site that can easily be accessed for daily measurements.

 Here I am holding a fluffy guillemot chick. This chick was very young and lacked feathers completely, it was not afraid to bite me when I picked it up though.
This is what an adult guillemot looks like, a gorgeous bird in my opinion. Not only do they share penguin colors, but they also waddle in a similar way!

On the same day, Chunyan Li and his student arrived, and immediately set out to deploy their ADCP. It has been on the bottom of Eluitkak pass for 4 days now. The data collected from this will be used to better understand the current dynamics of the Elson lagoon. Locals have informed us that tides and currents are mostly wind driven in Barrow and this data will be coupled with meteorological data to understand how wind effects currents. It is likely that variability in these currents is linked to the variability in nearshore fish communities.

 In order to understand why these fish communities vary the way that they do, we try to record as much data as possible about the conditions during each beach seine. We look at water chemistry using a YSI (depicted above), but also document weather conditions and the presence of potential predators.
 John Moran preparing our sediment samples for shipping back to the NOAA lab in Juneau, AK. These sediment samples will be tested for hydrocarbons to establish a baseline so that if an oil spill occurs in the future we can tell how much of that oil reaches our sampling sites.
 The USV Nanuq has run its course and collected its valuable data. Here I am getting it ready to be shipped back to FIU where it will reside until next year. 

This is an example of the types of bathymetric maps that can be created using data from the USV Nanuq.
 A handfull of biodiversity. This represents the typical species we catch in our hauls.
 Local subsistence fishermen are highly dependent on the fish within Elson Lagoon. Here a local fisherman checks his gill net, after snapping this shot I gave him a hand. He caught a bunch of big Chum Salmon!
 A view of the trail to Plover Point. This is the last trip to the point I will make this summer. It's bittersweet as it is great to know we've had a great sampling season, but sad to know that I will be missing this amazing place for almost a year before I return.
 At the North Slope Borough kids day we allowed the local kids to help us set the seine net, and participate in other science related activities. Here we are educating some of the locals about the types of zooplankton that we find along their beaches.
 Nancy Deschue, a BOEM employee, joined us to see how we do our beach seines. This is her smiling as she is enjoying an ATV ride to Plover Point.

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