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Weekly Highlights for 8-10-2012
I. Departmental/Bureau News
A. Upcoming Events
No Upcoming Events highlights for this week
Alaska Science Center Director Mark Shasby will represent the USGS at the fall meeting of the Western Alaska LCC (W-AK LCC) Steering Committee which will be held at USFWS Alaska Regional Office on August 16. The agenda for the meeting includes: (1) review of the agenda for the upcoming Western Alaska Stream and Lake Monitoring Workshop; (2) development of a set of project strategies and priorities for the 2013 call for proposals; (3) discussion of priorities for the 5 year strategic science plan; (4) updates on all currently funded W-AK LCC projects in terms of progress and products; and (5) round robin updates from all of the W-AK LCC Steering Committee members on their agencies.
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7065
USGS Alaska Science Center scientists Todd Atwood, Karyn Rode, George Durner, Lily Peacock, Dave Douglas, and Karen Oakley and USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center scientist Michael Runge will participate in a workshop related to development of the Polar Bear Conservation Plan in Anchorage, August 14-16. Since the polar bear was listed as a threatened species in 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has been in the process of developing a conservation plan to guide recovery actions. USGS scientists are part of a DOI Science and Technical Work Group that was established by FWS to provide support to the planning effort. At this meeting, strategy, criteria and indicators will be discussed to prepare for additional meetings with key conservation partners in fall 2012.
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7076
USGS Polar Bear Research Program Leader Todd Atwood will meet with the Kaktovik Village Council on August 14, to discuss USGS research activities based in Kaktovik. Kaktovik villagers hunt bowhead whales in the fall, and whale remains are placed on a barrier island in close proximity to the village. The whale carcasses attract a large number of polar bears, which have recently become the basis for growing tourism operations. USGS is studying ecology of bears staying onshore during the summer minimum sea ice season, and is using hair snaring around the whale carcasses to gain information about the number, identity and timing of bear use. Preliminary findings will be presented, and the meeting will provide an opportunity for community concerns to be discussed.
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7093
USGS Alaska Science Center is collaborating with the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge to initiate a new study using marine birds as indicators of the marine environment and climate change in the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea. USGS funding provided for support of the Aleutian and Bering Sea Islands Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) will be used to mount a research cruise in the Aleutians during August, 2012, to examine relationships between marine climate, oceanography, zooplankton, forage fish and seabirds in the Aleutians and Bering Sea. Data collected on this cruise will supplement similar data from ship-based and colony studies conducted by USGS and FWS collaborators since the late 1980s. With additional funding from the North Pacific Research Board, USGS scientists will: 1) Update, compile and analyze FWS and USGS datasets on seabird and forage fish communities at sea and at colonies (including seabird diets and population trends); 2) Relate observed changes in seabird ecology during the past 25-30 years to environmental and climate indices, and, 3) Develop a study plan and proposal for the Aleutian and Bering Sea Islands LLC to support future collaborative research on the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
Nordland, WA, (360) 774-0516
USGS Alaska Science Center scientists Joel Schmutz ,Colleen Handel, and Courtney Amundson will present at the 5th North American Ornithological Conference in Vancouver, British Colombia August 14-18, bringing together 1,500 participants from 25 countries. This year's theme "Sea to Sky" will present topics ranging from migration patterns, to avian personalities, diseases, urban birds, vocal communication, mating habits, and the impact of wind-farms on birds. Joel Schmutz will present a paper entitled "Disease as a demographic constraint on a Bering Sea endemic: the emperor goose." Analyses from recent field work suggest that these geese are infected with blood parasites at a higher level than expected for tundra breeding birds, and that infected geese exhibited poor breeding success. Most emperor geese (>90 percent) have also been exposed to avian influenza virus. These and other data imply that disease may be an important reason why population numbers for this species remain chronically depressed. Courtney Amundson and Colleen Handel will present a poster titled "Hierarchical Models of Distribution and Abundance of Birds across Coastal Parks of Southwestern Alaska" that evaluated the habitat relationships of several montane-nesting (>100 m) landbird and shorebird species observed during a recent inventory in three national parks in southwest Alaska. The authors mapped predicted density across all 3 parks for each species. Further information may be found at http://www.naoc-v2012.com/.
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7094
A paper by USGS Alaska Science Center research statistician Jeff Bromaghin has received the 2012 Stevan Phelps Award for the best paper using genetics published by the American Fisheries Society (AFS) in 2011 (Bromaghin et al., 2011, Using a genetic mixture model to study phenotypic traits: Differential fecundity among Yukon River Chinook salmon, Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 140:235-349). This paper presents a novel mixture model which allows the phenotypic traits of individual populations to be estimated from a single sample from a multiple-population aggregation. An example of the model's utility using data on Yukon River Chinook salmon fecundity revealed new insights into constraints on reproductive investment strategies imposed by arduous migrations that have important implications for fishery conservation and management. The model extends a widely used method for estimating the contribution of source populations to a mixture and greatly expands the utility of genetic markers in the research and management of fish and wildlife. A plaque in honor of the award will be presented during the annual AFS meeting in Minneapolis on August 20.
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7086
The US Coast Guard is using the animated map on the USGS Alaska Science Center web page that depicts daily locations of satellite radio-tagged walruses and sea ice distribution in the eastern Chukchi Sea. USGS researchers attached satellite radio-tags to 40 walruses in the eastern Chukchi Sea in mid-July to describe walrus movements, foraging areas, and sea ice habitats as part of the Changing Arctic Ecosystems research initiative. The web site shows the movements of the tagged walruses in near-real time providing information the Coast Guard, aviators and other vessel traffic can use to avoid areas used by walruses. The ASC has been posting animations of walrus movements in the Chukchi Sea annually since 2007, but this is the first time we are aware of the data being used in this way. The web site is found at http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/walrus/2012animation.html.
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7145
A new report by USGS Alaska Science Center hydrologist Tim Brabets provides the latest hydrology conditions of the Copper River Highway at Mile 36 and at Mile 38-43. In August 2011, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities closed the Copper River Highway at Mile 36 due to severe pier scour conditions at Bridge 339 that had been documented and monitored by ASC hydrologists. The highway remains closed until Bridge 339 is repaired. From Mile 38-43, the highway could be damaged from high flows of the Copper River. This report documents the flow conditions at Mile 36 (Bridge 339) through September 2011 and describes the application of the USGS FaSTMECH (Flow and Sediment Transport with Morphologic Evolution of Channels) model to analyze 1) the effects of raising the road grade from Mile 38-43 and 2) the effects of constructing a channel to divert flow away from Bridge 339.
Hydrology and Modeling of Flow Conditions at Bridge 339 and Mile 38-43, Copper River Highway, Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012-5153, by Timothy P. Brabets.
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7105
USGS scientists Benjamin Jones (Alaska Science Center) and Zhong Lu (Cascades Volcano Observatory) have collaborated with lead-author Dr. Christopher Arp (UAF) and fellow co-author Matthew Whitman (BLM - Arctic Field Office) on a recent publication entitled, "Shifting balance of thermokarst lake ice regimes across the Arctic Coastal Plain of northern Alaska", that will appear in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The balance of thermokarst lakes in the Arctic with bedfast-ice and floating-ice regimes regulates heat storage, permafrost thaw, winter-water supply, and over-wintering aquatic habitat. Thus, better understanding how and why lake ice growth varies from year to year and how this variation is reflected across the landscape is an important component of documenting potential shifts in Arctic ecosystems. In this study, the authors used a combination of field surveys, insitu data collection, model development, and radar remote sensing to document shifts in the variability of lake ice regimes in northern Alaska from 1978 to 2011. Comparing a modern radar remote sensing time-series that distinguished grounded ice versus floating ice lakes with an historic radar derived dataset, showed that 16 percent of the bedfast ice lakes transitioned to a floating-ice regime. Modeling of both winter ice growth and annual water balance indicates that this conversion is likely due to a lake ice thinning trend of 1.5 cm/yr over the last three decades. The most profound impact of this regime shift in Arctic lakes may be an increase in the landscape-scale thermal offset created by additional lake heat storage and its role in developing new taliks in otherwise continuous permafrost. A more subtle, yet important component of changing Arctic ecosystems relates to an increase in potential over-wintering aquatic habitat, which may ultimately be reflected as an increase in available summertime habitat for migratory birds. The manuscript is now available online through GRL in their Papers in Press section (http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/pip/2012GL052518.shtml).
Arp, C. D., B. M. Jones, Z. Lu, and M. S. Whitman (2012), Shifting balance of thermokarst lake ice regimes across the Arctic Coastal Plain of northern Alaska, Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10.1029/2012GL052518, in press.
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7033
USGS Alaska Science Center biologist, Dr. Paul Flint, is lead author on a study in the upcoming issue of the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry entitled, "Chronic hydrocarbon exposure of harlequin ducks in areas affected by the Selendang Ayu oil spill at Unalaska Island, Alaska." In December 2004, the M/V Selendang Ayu ran aground off Unalaska Island, releasing an estimated 1.3 million liters of bunker oil and other fuels. The authors monitored levels of hepatic 7-ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase or EROD activity in liver samples of live harlequin ducks in the oil area and one reference area away from the spill in 2005, 2006 and 2008. Mean EROD activity in ducks from oiled bays was significantly higher than in the reference bay. Results indicated that harlequin ducks were exposed to lingering hydrocarbons more than three years after the oil spill. Long-term exposure has been documented following major spill events (i.e., Exxon Valdez) and this study demonstrates similar effects from small spills, which are much more frequent and widely distributed.
Flint, P. L., J. L. Schamber, K. A. Trust, A. K. Miles, J. D. Henderson, and B. W. Wilson. 2012. Chronic hydrocarbon exposure of Harlequin Ducks in areas affected by the Selendang Ayu oil spill at Unalaska Island, Alaska. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, In Press.
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7094
Robert Gill, Jr., Research Wildlife Biologist with the USGS Alaska Science Center is one of 14 co-authors from an international team that conducted an assessment to determine current and future threats facing migratory shorebirds across the globe. The new paper, entitled "A horizon scanning assessment of current and potential future threats to migratory shorebirds" will be published in the journal Ibis in the October 2012 issue. The authors examined a complete list of potential threats and identified 45 issues facing migratory shorebirds world-wide, including microplastics, new means of human recreation, and infectious diseases. This assessment will serve as a guiding document for managers and researchers as they determine where to next invest research time and resources on the world's shorebird populations. The authors recommend that similar assessments take place for other taxa for ranking current and future threats. For more information on shorebird research visit: http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/shorebirds/index.html.
Sutherland, W.J., Alves, J.A., Amano, T., Chang, C.H., Davidson, N.C., Finlayson, C.M., Gill, J.A., Gill, R.E., González, P.M., Gunnarsson, T.G., Kleijn, D., Spray, C.J., Székely, T. and Thompson, D.B.A. (in press) A horizon scanning assessment of current and potential future threats facing migratory shorebirds. Ibis.
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7094
II. Press Inquiries/Media
On August 9, USGS Alaska Science Center scientists Chad Jay and Karen Oakley were interviewed by Jill Burke with Alaska Dispatch and answered questions about alopecia in polar bears and other animals. Jay also answered questions about walrus and observation from his recent field work in the Chukchi Sea.
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7414
On August 7, Ellen Lockyer with KSKA/APRN contacted Janet H. Curran, USGS Alaska Science Center Hydrologist, about the erosion and flooding on the Matanuska. The biggest question seems to be whether it's related to the large snowpack this year or the recent rains. Both the Sutton and Old Glenn Highway problem spots are related to the river expanding its braid plain, not to high discharge. Along the Old Glenn Highway, the river has eroded 300-400 ft since our 2006 benchmark photos, so the flooding there is just water spilling out of the advancing channel into low-lying areas. The bigger issue is the impending entire loss of the houses as the river undercuts them. The highway is about 250 ft from the present edge of the river, which puts it at risk, too. On August 2, the Matanuska River erosion and flooding aired on Alaska News Nightly and Alaska Morning News August 3. For more information go to: http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2011/5214/
July 27, KTUU http://www.ktuu.com/news/matanuska-river-erosion-threatens-sutton-home-20120727,0,3805781.story
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7128
The Arctic Institute of North America (AINA) has posted the Alaska Science Center's webpage on walrus radio-tracking in the Chukchi Sea 2012 on their news page. http://www.arctic.ucalgary.ca/.
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7039