Interannual Variability in Physical-Biological Properties on the Shelf near Barrow, AK


Arctic Research Initiative
2007 Funded Project


The shelf near Barrow, AK is a critical feeding area for migrating bowhead whales, particularly during the fall migration from their summer grounds in the Canadian Arctic to their overwintering grounds in the northern Bering Sea (e.g., Lowry et al., 2004). Here I proposed to enhance an existing NSF funded project exploring the formation of bowhead whale prey aggregations and the impact of climate change on the formation of those aggregations and, ultimately, on Iñupiat subsistence whaling along the northern coast of Alaska.Results from biophysical sampling conducted as part of that project during August-September 2005 and 2006 demonstrated that the oceanography of the shelf is complex, dynamic, and highly variable both interannually and on shorter time scales (days-weeks) and that advection is closely coupled to the direction and magnitude of the winds.These results also suggested that oceanographic and atmospheric conditions impact the composition, distribution, and availability of plankton prey for the bowhead whale. However, understanding of temporal and spatial variability cannot be achieved using two years of sampling alone. The present project seeks to further define a) interannual variability in the ocean environment and in the availability of bowhead whale prey and b) the impact of short-term wind events on the shelf ocean system by increasing the sampling for an additional two years. High-resolution oceanographic sampling using a small boat would be conducted along two transects selected from the larger sampling grid across the shelf near Barrow, AK. Ultimately, these observations would lead to a greater understanding of the shelf environment as well as providing important ground-truth for modeling efforts and background information towards the development of future investigations of this Arctic shelf ecosystem.

This project enhances an existing research program focusing on the Alaska coastal ecosystem and the impact of changes in the Arctic on that system. It addresses directly the effect of Arctic change on Arctic ecosystems and is relevant to the goals of the national interagency Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH, 2005). The proposed work is a continuation of my ongoing interest in the impact of Arctic change on ecosystems in that region, particularly in the Western Arctic.Data collected during this project would be used to support a larger proposal to the NSF or equivalent for a follow-on study of the ecosystem of the shelf.