Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Excitement Continues

It has been an exciting week on the ACES project. The USV Nanuq has finished its sea trials and has been collecting valuable acoustic data inside the Elson Lagoon and along the Chukchi coast, and will be deployed today off of Plover Point to survey the pass between the Beaufort Sea and Elson Lagoon.

The beach seining crew continues to bring in increasingly diverse hauls. We have seen steady growth in a number of larval and juvenile species (sandlance, capelin, and sculpin). This week a new cohort of larval fish has been mixed in with the previous cohort, suggesting that these species spawn more than once during summer.

This week while we were setting our net next to the boat ramp in the center of town, a young boy stood on the boat ramp staring at the water, occasionally appearing to snatch something from the water. After finishing our set we talked to him, and he showed us the fish he had been trying to catch with his bare hands. He had managed to catch one and to our surprise it was a larval Arctic cod, one of the target species for the project, one that coincidentally had been mostly absent from our catches. These cod had taken to the boat ramp structure as if it was an iceberg, and there were hundreds of them. So we did what any scientist in our situation would do, we used anything and everything we could come up with to catch them. I personally favored my mosquito head net, but empty cups, bottles, and strainers worked well too.

We quickly attracted a lot of attention and decided to turn it into a community outreach event. We handed out dip nets to all the kids who had been watching us and asked them to help us collect samples while teaching them about the fish they were catching. These fish cannot be used in relative abundance or community structure analysis but they were all saved for energetics and isotopic analysis. It just goes to show that it’s not about how big your net is, but how you use the net you’ve got. 

Probably the most exciting catch was two unidentified salmon smolts in the North Salt Lagoon. Historically salmon were not found in these northern reaches of the North Slope, but in recent years local fishermen of Barrow have started catching chum and pink salmon in their gill nets. These salmon smolts along with the two that were caught last year indicate that salmon are beginning to spawn in these Arctic waters.

Range extensions of this type are of high importance to us because they clearly indicate that global warming is having a noticeable effect on Arctic ecosystems. In this particular case the range extension is being welcomed with open arms, but global warming also has the potential to cause range shifts in a negative way. For instance, Arctic marine mammals that are dependent on nearshore ice conditions are struggling because nearshore ice has been melting much faster in recent years. Unlike the salmon, these animals cannot move further north to find more nearshore ice.

In the next few days we will be spending a day with George Divoky on Cooper Island to see the nesting colony of black guillemots that he studies. Chunyan Li from Louisiana State University will be joining us to deploy an ADCP to measure current dynamics of the Elson Lagoon system. More on that in the next post!
 Ann and Sam setting the seine net using a simple but effective setup.
 Positive Ann is excited to go sampling on this drab and rainy day.
 JJ Vollenweider is incredibly excited to see her first Walrus, even though it is dead and headless. Inupiat people find ways to use every part of the animals on which they subsist. Whenever a dead animal is found, they will salvage any parts they can use. In the case of Walruses the heads and penis bones (known as an Usik) are removed and used in native handicrafts. Unfortunately this particular walrus had been dead too long for its meat to be salvageable.
 Many Inupiat villages have adopted the use of a bone pile. All remains of carcasses that may attract polar bears are piled up several miles outside of town so that any bears in the area will stay there and not make their way into town.
 Local scientists of the North Slope Borough have setup a bear fence around the bone pile. Not to keep them out, but to capture their fur for DNA samples. It certainly does not stop them from getting in which was made clear by the fact that 3 inches to the right of the picture the barb wire had been snapped in half by the bear who's fur is shown.
 On our way along the Chukchi coast we ran into this man, Charles Hendrich, and his spaceship-like row boat. He is currently on a rowing expedition from the Bering Strait and onward to Canada along the Chukchi and Beaufort coast. In the past he has accomplished seemingly impossible goals such as a solo rowing expedition across the Atlantic in 36 days!
 When its nice weather, Ann likes to lay out in the sun while picking fish out of the net.
 The Chukchi coast is undergoing major erosion. This location illustrates just how much: the soil erodes away faster than the permafrost can melt.
 On our way to one of our sampling sites we came across a pod of approximately 300 Beluga Whales that were swimming right up to the beach. After they left, we set our net and realized why they were there as we hauled in thousands of sandlance.
 Though these kids are holding a play station controller, they are not playing video games. They are actually driving the USV Nanuq, which is many ways is like the most expensive video game you can imagine.
 Here I am staring into the water trying to figure out what the phalaropes in the background were feeding on. Apparently their they have better eyesight than me because I saw nothing but water and pebbles.
 Our methods are not graceful, but they are effective. Crawling around on all fours with tweezers in hand is still the best way to make sure we collect our entire catch.
Here we are at the boat ramp scooping up fish with the local kids while the USV Nanuq station-keeps to the left.

 Midnight sun can sometimes seem like a never ending sunset. This particular night, the scenery was so beautiful it almost looked fake.
August 8th, the first sunset. It lasted all of 5 minutes before the sun reappeared.

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