A Winter Expedition to Explore the Biological and Physical Conditions of the Bering, Chukchi, and Southern Beaufort Seas

Carin Ashjian, Biology


Arctic Research Initiative
2011 Funded Project


The Arctic system is undergoing significant changes related to a warming climate, most notably decreased sea ice cover which may have significant impacts on Arctic ecosystems. Our understanding of seasonality, and of winter conditions and biological and physical processes during that time, in the Arctic is severely limited. This lack of knowledge has compromised our ability to model and to predict future states of Arctic ecosystems, efforts that are central to our ability to understand the potential impacts of ongoing climate change.

Zooplankton are key transformers of organic carbon through feeding on phytoplankton/ ice algae and microzooplankton. The question of whether zooplankton are active during winter remains elusive. Quantifying if zooplankton are feeding, at what rate are they feeding, and are they respiring during winter are key to our understanding of winter biological activity in the Arctic seas.

I have been funded by the National Science Foundation to lead a 6-week, interdisciplinary cruise to the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas during winter 2011-12 on the icebreaker USCGC Healy. The cruise will collect physical and biological data and samples across a set of transects in the cross-shelf-slope regimes of those three Seas. To my knowledge, this is the first such research cruise to these regions during winter.

Here I seek to augment the activities already planned for this cruise by conducting zooplankton feeding and respiration experiments. This information will permit more realistic formulations in both individual based and ecosystem modeling, since at present we simply have no information on how to model zooplankton activity during this portion of the year. These will be the first zooplankton feeding experiments conducted during Arctic winter.

The winter cruise also offers an unprecedented opportunity to increase general awareness of Arctic ecosystems during winter and of WHOI’s leadership role in the exploration of this remote and previously un-accessed region. I propose to develop a cruise website that describes the background and scientific rationale for the expedition and that will be updated regularly with text, photographs, and video by myself and other cruise participants.