Alaska Science Center
ABOUT THE ALASKA
Prior In The Spotlight Articles
Press Release: Zoo Polar Bear Sports High-Tech Neckwear for Conservation
Tasul, an Oregon Zoo polar bear, recently landed her first white-collar job: research assistant for the U.S. Geological Survey. Her assignment: wearing a high-tech radio collar with an accelerometer to help solve a climate change mystery. Anthony Pagano, wildlife biologist with the USGS Alaska Science Center is leading this study for the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative. He will be recording video of Tasul wearing the collar and matching her behavior to the signal from the accelerometer allowing researchers to create a digital fingerprint for polar bear behavior. This unique opportunity to work with captive animals will greatly expand the utility of data collected from wild bears, and will help scientists to understand how polar bears are responding to the rapid loss of the Arctic sea ice. To view press release visit: http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=3653. Also follow on Facebook and Twitter.
Changing Arctic Ecosystems—New Fact Sheet Describes Research in Boreal-Arctic Transition Zone
Through the Changing Arctic Ecosystems research initiative, the USGS strives to inform key resource management decisions by better understanding how wildlife populations of special interest to the Department of the Interior are responding to rapid physical changes in the Arctic. The initiative includes several research themes, including one focused on the Boreal-Arctic transition zone that evaluates (1) how the distribution, abundance, and community structure of breeding birds are related to climate-driven habitat conditions; (2) how rapidly the distributions of birds and their habitats are changing in this transition zone; and (3) how avian recruitment and survival are affected by climate and climate-driven habitat conditions. Results from these studies will be used to forecast which avian species, communities, habitats, and core geographic areas are likely to be most vulnerable to projected climate changes. In a new fact sheet published this week, the USGS highlights the research being conducted within the Boreal-Arctic transition zone. The fact sheet is available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2013/3054/.
Shrews and Voles Help Predict Future Responses of Arctic Wildlife
Climate change in the Arctic is a growing concern for natural resource management agencies. In a recent publication, USGS researchers along with collaborators demonstrate a new way to predict changes in the extent of arctic tundra and boreal forest in Alaska over time. The prediction tool is based on climate data and genetic information from several small mammal species in Alaska, namely shrews and voles. Small mammal species are an ideal model system since they are non-migratory and closely associated with specific habitats.
Take 2—USGS Re-releases The Alaska Geochemical Database
An Improved version for Speed and Efficiency of Use
New Fact Sheet Provides Information on New and On-going Research Related to Wildlife Disease and Environmental Health in Alaska
Interagency Working Group Calls for Integrated Management and Planning for a Rapidly Changing Arctic
USGS Alaska Science Center Scientists and Managers served as members of writing teams that helped develop the newly released report to the President "Managing for the Future in a Rapidly Changing Arctic".
USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative
New Fact Sheet Provides Update on Polar Bear and Walrus Response to the Rapid Decline in Arctic Sea Ice
Fact Sheet is online at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2012/3131/
New Fact Sheet Provides Update on Measuring and Forecasting the Response of Alaska's Terrestrial Ecosystem to a Warming Climate
Fact Sheet is online at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2012/3144/
Through the Changing Arctic Ecosystems (CAE) initiative, the USGS strives to inform key resource management decisions by better understanding how wildlife populations of special interest to the Department of the Interior are responding to rapid physical changes in the Arctic. The CAE initiative includes several research themes, including one focused on the marine ecosystem and effects of recent declines in sea ice on the polar bear and walrus and another focused on Arctic terrestrial systems and a range of focal wildlife species dependent on that environment. USGS has published two new Fact Sheets to highlight the integrative modeling framework, new technologies being developed and early findings of these research themes.
Report Discusses Climate Change in Alaska
This report, The United States National Climate Assessment—Alaska Technical Regional Report, is one of eight regional reports that will provide input to the 2013 National Climate Assessment. The report covers a wide range of observed environmental trends and potential effects of a changing climate in Alaska including changes on the ocean environment, the land environment, the human environment and hydrological linkages. The report also describes new science leadership activities that have been initiated to address and provide guidance toward conducting research aimed at making available information for policy makers and land management agencies to better understand, address, and plan for changes to the local and regional environment. The report can be viewed at http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1379/.
Alaska Science Center Press Conference Presents Updates on Pacific Walrus Research
The loss of sea ice habitat in the Chukchi Sea is believed to be one of the greatest influences on future Pacific walrus population dynamics. Through the Changing Arctic Ecosystems initiative, the U.S. Geological Survey has lead research on polar bears and walruses for the Department of Interior for many years and is continuing to support new integrated studies that target critical data gaps. Chad Jay, lead scientist for the USGS Pacific Walrus program, provided a short briefing on findings from USGS's Changing Arctic Ecosystem Initiative related to observations on the effects of sea ice loss in the Chukchi Sea. A new 12 minute film about the research, "Tracking Pacific Walrus: Expedition to the Shrinking Chukchi Sea Ice," was premiered at the event in addition to new maps, statistics, and other information. A new study just published in the November issue of Marine Ecology Progress discusses how USGS and ChukotTINRO radio-tracked walruses to investigate the distribution of walrus foraging in the Chukchi Sea during sparse sea ice cover in recent years. A USGS news release about the study was also issued.
Historical Topographic Maps of Alaska Now Available Online
Historical maps are an important national resource that provide the long-term record and documentation of the natural, physical and cultural landscape. Genealogists, historians, anthropologists, archeologists and others use this collection for research as well as for a framework on which a myriad of information can be presented in relation to the landscape. The U.S. Geological Survey has been producing maps since the 1880's and now the public can download Alaska maps for free, including background information, dating back to 1899 from the Historical Topographic Map Collection. For more information see news release at http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=3426.
USGS Water Data Informs Emergency Managers and the Public about Potential Flooding
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) operates the most extensive network of streamgaging stations in the state, many of which form the backbone of flood-warning systems. The National Weather Service and other State and Federal agencies use USGS streamflow data provided from 120 "real-time" sites (http://waterdata.usgs.gov/ak/nwis/current/?type=flow) in Alaska to provide warnings to the public. The Southcentral region of Alaska has been under a high wind and flood watch for the past week and additional storms are expected to arrive in the following week. Photos of USGS hydrologists measuring water volume at Chester Creek in Anchorage, AK may be found at http://www.adn.com/2012/09/16/2627585/rainwater-floods-chester-creek.html. For more information visit http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/water/index.php.
US Coast Guard Uses USGS Walrus Radio Tracking Data to Avoid Marine Mammal Conflicts
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.
Alaska Science Center in the News
Previous research using mitochondrial DNA led scientists to believe that polar bears have existed for about 600 thousand years. A new genetic study by an international team of scientists, including three scientists from the USGS Alaska Science Center, using nuclear DNA, suggests polar bears evolved as a distinct species about 4-5 million years ago. The new study also suggests that hybridization of polar bears and brown bears may have occurred repeatedly and earlier than previously thought due to past environmental changes. Dr. Sandra Talbot was interviewed by Emily Schwing (Alaska Public Radio) about the study. Listen to the full interview.
Alaska Science Center in the News
On June 26, a USGS news release "Shrews in the News—Rapid Evolution of Shrews in Response to Climate Change" featured a new study in the Journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. In this study research geneticists Andrew Hope and Sandra Talbot of the USGS Alaska Science Center, along with colleagues from the Museum of Southwestern Biology at the University of New Mexico and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, document rapid genetic evolution of small mammals on the North Slope of Alaska in response to historic climate change. The new release may be found at http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=3261 and the publication is at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1055790312001996.
Fact Sheet Discusses Ocean Acidification Research in the Arctic Ocean
St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center scientist Lisa Robbins is the author of a fact sheet titled "Studying Ocean Acidification in the Arctic Ocean." The fact sheet discusses new and extensive synoptic data collections in the Arctic Ocean on the U.S. Coast Guard Ice Breaker Healy and its United Nations Convention Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) cruises that will provide insights into the patterns and extent of ocean acidification. This framework of foundational geochemical information will help inform our understanding of potential risks to Arctic resources due to ocean acidification. The fact sheet can be viewed at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2012/3058/.
Assessment of Potential Oil and Gas Resources in Source Rocks of the Alaska North Slope, 2012
The U.S. Geological Survey estimated potential, technically recoverable oil and gas resources for source rocks of the Alaska North Slope. Estimates (95-percent to 5-percent probability) range from zero to 2 billion barrels of oil and from zero to nearly 80 trillion cubic feet of gas.
The Novarupta—Katmai Eruption of 1912—largest eruption of the 20th century: A Centennial
One hundred years ago this June, a 3-day explosive eruption at Novarupta on the Alaska Peninsula near King Salmon became one of the five largest eruptions in recorded history. It created the spectacular Katmai caldera and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, which early explorers called the eighth wonder of the world. Preserved as a National Monument in 1918, and now part of Katmai National Park, the eruption created an outdoor laboratory that has captivated scientists and sightseers alike for 100 years.
Cold Regions Lake and Landscape Research Website Now Available
A Cold Regions Lake and Landscape Research group at the Alaska Science Center introduces a website that contains information pertaining to ongoing projects, recent highlights, field photos from around Alaska, and a series of Geotagged Lake and Landscape Oblique Aerial Photos, that can be used for ground-truthing remotely sensed landcover mapping efforts, developing baseline information for future change detection studies, and better understanding landscape-scale patterns and processes. The primary objective of this research program is to gain an understanding of landscape change in the recent (last 50 years) and distant (last 20,000 years) past. This is accomplished through a combination of techniques that include remote sensing, GIS, field surveys, laboratory analyses, and model development. Ultimately, these studies provide information that land and resource managers can use to better inform their decision making process. To view the website visit http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/geography/studies/index.php.
Changing Arctic Ecosystems Fact Sheet Now Available
USGS recently published a new fact sheet entitled "Changing Arctic Ecosystems—Research to Understand and Project Changes in Marine and Terrestrial Ecosystems of the Arctic." Ecosystems and their wildlife communities are not static; they change and evolve over time due to numerous intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Through the new initiative Changing Arctic Ecosystems (CAE) the USGS strives to understand the potential suite of wildlife population responses to these physical changes to inform key resource management decisions such as those related to the Endangered Species Act, and provide unique insights into how Arctic ecosystems are responding under new stressors. The CAE initiative includes three major research themes including Marine Ecosystems, The Arctic Coastal Plans, and Boreal-Arctic Transiting Zone that span Arctic ice-dominated ecosystems and that are structured to identify and understand the linkages between physical processes, ecosystems, and wildlife populations. To view the factsheet visit http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2011/3136/.
Resource Managers use USGS Satellite Telemetry Data to Plan Emergency Fuel Delivery
Spectacled Eiders, a large sea duck that is classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, spend most of their lives in a marine habitat. Resource Managers are using Spectacled Eider satellite telemetry data collected by USGS Alaska Science Center scientists to plot a route to help deliver emergency fuel to the ice bound coastal community of Nome, AK. Satellite telemetry data and subsequent aerial surveys revealed that 380,000 spectacled eiders, almost the entire population of this species, winter in the northern Bering Sea for five to six months within the pack ice. The Russian Tanker Renda, along with the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy, is in route with 1.4 million gallons of petroleum products, making this the first time a delivery has been attempted during winter in Alaska. For more information see USGS News Release http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=3067&from=rss_home or visit USGS at http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/seaducks/spei/index.php.
Comprehensive Alaska Geochemical Database Contains over 40 Years of Data
The publication "Alaska Geochemical Database (AGDB)—Geochemical data for rock, sediment, soil, mineral, and concentrate sample media" was created and designed to compile and integrate geochemical data from Alaska in order to facilitate geologic mapping, petrologic studies, mineral resource assessments, definition of geochemical baseline values and statistics, environmental impact assessments, and studies in medical geology. This Microsoft Access database serves as a data archive in support of present and future Alaskan geologic and geochemical projects, and contains data tables describing historical and new quantitative and qualitative geochemical analyses. The Data series includes analyses on 264,095 rocks, sediments (collected from streams, lakes, and various sources), soils, minerals, and heavy-mineral concentrates (derived from stream sediments, soils or rocks). A Fact Sheet is available online at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2011/3130/; the Data Series—containing a pamphlet, metadata files and data files—is available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/ds/637/.
A Promising Tool for Subsurface Permafrost Mapping
Permafrost is a predominant physical feature of the Earth's Arctic and Subarctic clines and a major consideration encompassing ecosystem structure to infrastructure engineering and placement. Perennially frozen ground is estimated to cover about 85 percent of the state of Alaska where northern reaches are underlain with continuous permafrost and parts of interior Alaska are underlain by areas of discontinuous and (or) sporadic permafrost. The region of Interior Alaska, where permafrost is scattered among unfrozen ground, is a complex mosaic of terrains and habitats. Such diversity creates arrays of lakes and surface-water and groundwater patterns that continental populations of migratory waterfowl and internationally significant fisheries have adapted to over time. A road or pipeline might pass over frozen and unfrozen ground, affecting the types of materials and engineering approaches needed to sustain the infrastructure.
The Alaska Science Center Celebrates National Native American Heritage Month
Craig Ely has been working with local youth and community leaders from the village of Chevak on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta for several generations. During National Native American Heritage Month, the Alaska Science Center pays tribute to the field assistants and Yupik Eskimo student volunteers participation in helping with the annual USGS waterfowl banding program along the Kashunuk River near the Bering Sea coast in western Alaska. The tundra swans, like other large waterfowl, are an important part of subsistence lifestyle in the Yupik culture and as the earliest spring migrants, often represent the first fresh food after a long winter. We recognize and celebrate the importance of cultural knowledge and contributions toward furthering science for the future. Learn more about Swan Surveillance and Research …
Scientists Quantify Export Of Mercury From The Yukon River
The Yukon River watershed, home of the longest free-flowing river in the world, releases nearly 5 tons of mercury per year into the environment. This is 3 to 32 times more mercury than eight other major northern hemisphere rivers. Thawing permafrost in the Yukon River watershed may be a source of naturally occurring mercury being conveyed by rivers into the environment. Methylated mercury, the type toxic to humans, was also found in the Yukon River, but at very low levels according to the five-year study that analyzed surface-water samples for total mercury concentrations and measured water discharge from the Yukon River at Pilot Station, Alaska.
Walrus Tagging Near Point Lay
USGS Alaska Science Center researchers, in cooperation with the Native Village of Point Lay, will attempt to attach 35 satellite radio-tags to walruses on the northwestern Alaska coast in August as part of their ongoing study of how the Pacific walrus are responding to reduced sea ice conditions in late summer and fall. For more information see http://usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=2882
For the second straight year, U.S. Geological Survey scientists will embark on a research cruise to the Arctic Ocean to determine trends in ocean acidification from the least explored ocean in the world. Researchers are deciphering the extent to which Arctic Ocean chemistry is changing and detailing potential implications for carbonate species - like phytoplankton and shellfish - that are vulnerable to greater ocean acidity. Water samples and other data will be collected aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy for seven weeks beginning August 15. Follow the cruise at http://coastal.er.usgs.gov/ocean-acidification/arcticcruise2011/
New model gives insight to the potential future of the Pacific walrus
Walruses are important to human communities bordering the Chukchi and Bering seas in the United States and Russia, and the status of walrus provides information about the health of these highly productive marine ecosystems. Projecting the future population status of the Pacific walrus was investigated with a new model developed by scientists at the USGS Alaska Science Center.
The Bayesian network model integrates the potential effects of changing environmental conditions and human stressors to help identify the reasons associated with declines in projected walrus populations. Sea ice habitat, particularly in summer/fall, and harvest levels had the greatest influence on future population outcomes. The Bayesian network model for walrus provides the framework for an increased research effort on the Pacific walrus and its marine ecosystem, as part of the Changing Arctic Ecosystems initiative.
The purpose of this initiative is to understand how changes in the ice-dominated ecosystems of the Arctic affect biological communities. A report detailing this model and its findings are available in the journal Polar Biology. Hear from the lead author in this exclusive interview.
The highest rate of beak abnormalities ever recorded in wild bird populations is being seen in a number of species in the Northwest and Alaska, and scientists have not yet isolated the cause. In Black-capped Chickadees, Northwestern Crows, and other birds affected by "avian keratin disorder," the beak is noticeably overgrown and often crossed, and some affected birds also have abnormal skin, legs, feet, claws or feathers. Biologists with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center published their findings in this month’s issue of The Auk, a Quarterly Journal of Ornithology. The increasing occurrence of deformities in multiple bird species with broad geographic distribution suggests that avian keratin disorder is spreading and may be an indication of underlying environmental health problems. The USGS will continue to investigate why so many birds are affected in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Current research is also focused on understanding the disease and potential causes of the disorder.
The Bering and Chukchi Seas support productive fisheries, a high diversity and abundance of marine mammals and birds, and large petroleum reserves. Because sea ice influences the presence of, or accessibility to, these varied resources, a broad spectrum of private and commercial stakeholders are interested in how global warming may change the timing and extent of sea ice in the Bering and Chukchi Seas. A USGS report published last week examines 21st century sea ice projections for the Bering and Chukchi Seas by 18 general circulation models. For the Chukchi Sea, ice-free conditions are projected for August, September, and October by the end of the century, with high agreement among models. High agreement also accompanies projections that the Chukchi Sea will be completely ice covered during February, March, and April at the end of the century. The ice-free season in the Bering Sea is projected to increase from its contemporary average of 5.5 months to a median of about 8.5 months by the end of the century. The primary impetus for this study was to provide an analysis of future habitat of the Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens), a pinniped species strongly associated with sea ice, and a species that is presently under review by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a possible candidate for the Endangered Species Act.
Columbia Glacier, located near Valdez, AK, in Prince William Sound, has been retreating rapidly since the early 1980s. Since the USGS began research in the mid-1970s the glacier has retreated more than 15 km and thinned in excess of 500 m. A new study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters presents the first detailed observation of the transition from a grounded to floating terminus. This study provides insight into the mechanics of iceberg production which will allow glaciologists to better understand and model iceberg production from glaciers and ice sheets. These predictions, in turn, will provide a more accurate estimate of sea-level rise in the near future.
USGS is leading a walrus tracking study to better understand the distribution of walruses,and their use of important foraging areas and sea ice habitats in the Chukchi Sea. The Department of the Interior (DOI) needs basic information about walrus in this region due to the potential of trans-oceanic shipping and oil and gas leasing in the Chukchi Sea. In addition, the DOI also hopes to use data from this study to understand how changes in sea ice will affect walruses.
On August 7, 2008, Kasatochi Volcano, located in the central Aleutian Islands, erupted catastrophically, covering the island with ash and hot pyroclastic flow material. Kasatochi was an annual monitoring site of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (AMNWR), thus features of the island's terrestrial and nearshore ecosystems were well known. In 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey, AMNWR, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks initiated long-term studies to better understand the effects of the eruption and the role volcanism plays in structuring ecosystems in the Aleutian Islands, a volcano-dominated region with high natural resource values. Go to the Kasatochi website to learn more about Kasatochi and these multi-disciplinary research projects.
Researchers attached satellite radio-tags to walruses to help describe walrus movements, foraging areas, and sea ice habitats in the Chukchi Sea. Thirty-four walruses were tagged in early June during the 2009 spring northward migration, six in early July near Barrow, and sixteen in mid-September near Icy Cape during the sea ice minimum. View this animation to see walrus locations through mid-November.
Rapid erosion along an Arctic coastline
In an effort to gain a better understanding of the processes driving reported increases in coastal erosion along the Beaufort Sea coast of Alaska we established an erosion monitoring station that consisted of a time-lapse camera and other instrumentation in the nearshore environment. This video clip shows one photo a day from 11 July 2009 to 22 August 2009. At the beginning of the time-series, blocks that had collapsed during 2008 are seen abutting the bluff. These blocks are completely removed by the 17 July 2009 and the sea begins to cut another erosional niche that will ultimately lead to the block collapse occurring on 03 August 2009. This large block (measuring 6m x 10m x 2m) is then degraded within five days. Removal of this block allows for the development of another niche and block collapse episode. An increase in the number of these events per year is likely responsible for the increase in land loss along this Arctic coastline. Beaufort Sea Coast Erosion (video)
Satellite telemetry tracking wildlife across the Arctic.
USGS Arctic Study Evaluates Science and Knowledge Gaps for OCS Energy Development
In response to a request from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the U.S. Geological Survey on June 23 released the "science gap and sufficiency" report evaluating science needed to better inform decisions regarding oil and natural gas exploration and development in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska. The report summarizes the large volume of existing scientific information, much of it conducted under the auspices of the Environmental Studies Program of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement; identifies where knowledge gaps exist; and provides initial guidance on new and continuing research that could improve decision-making. More than 50 findings and an equal number of recommendations are contained in the 279-page report, entitled An Evaluation of the Science Needs to Inform Decisions on Outer Continental Shelf Energy Development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska. A fact sheet on the Arctic study is available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2011/3048, the report is available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1370