Alaska Science Center
Prior In The Spotlight Articles
Video of Field Work on Beak Deformities in Black-capped Chickadees in Alaska
Ever wonder how scientists study disease in wild birds? Watch a video of USGS biologists conducting field work as they try and answer questions about the cause of "avian keratin disorder" and how it affects the health and survival of Black-capped Chickadees. Each fall and spring biologists visit sites around southcentral Alaska and collect data to track this disorder and help solve a mystery.
How are Waterfowl Responding to Fires in the Western Boreal Forest?
Wildfires are the principal disturbance in the boreal forest, and their size and frequency are increasing as the climate warms. A new study using a dataset spanning 60 years and covering a vast area across North America's boreal forest provides the first in-depth evaluation of fire impacts on waterfowl abundance. This region is recognized as an internationally important breeding area for waterfowl, annually supporting 12–15 million breeding ducks. This study found that forest fires had no detectable impact on waterfowl abundance and that this lack of impact was consistent over time, extending from the years immediately following the fire to those more than a decade later. For waterfowl managers, the results of this study suggest that current policies of limited fire suppression, which predominate throughout much of the boreal forest, have not been detrimental to waterfowl populations.
Mendenhall River - glacial outburst flood
The outlet to Suicide basin, near Juneau, Alaska is blocked by the Mendenhall Glacier and the basin fills with water each year until the ice dam fails. The water level in the basin rose 100 feet since May 14, 2016 and began draining through the glacier on June 29, a process known as a glacial outburst flood. This new USGS monitoring station in the Suicide basin provided emergency officials with a 3-day warning on June 29th, before the flood peaked in downstream residential areas.
Bears of the World: Learning from Our Past to Inform Our Future - It’s Not Just for Scientists!
The 24th International Conference on Bear Research & Management conference will be held June 12-16 in Anchorage, Alaska. Concurrent with the scientific program, the International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA) is providing special free programs for the public focused on bears. These events are being hosted by USGS and other members of the Anchorage Bear Committee Education Group that was formed in 2008 to launch a collaborative educational effort focused on safe recreation in bear country in and around Anchorage. Arrive early to try out bear spray, brush up on bear safety, or browse for books about bears and finish the evening listening to engaging public lectures on bears. These events are free and open to the public June 13, 14, and 15 at the Dena’ina Center in Downtown Anchorage. For more information visit: IBA Flyer - 910 KB pdf file
100 Years of Migratory Bird Conservation – Public Lecture Series
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, The Alaska Zoo, The Audubon Society and US National Park Service Alaska Public Lands Information Center (APLIC) are co-sponsoring a summer lecture series to commemorate the “Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial - 1916-2016 - 100 Years of Migratory Bird Conservation”. The series began June 1st and will continue throughout the summer until August 31, every Wednesday at 2:00 pm at the APLIC Federal building in downtown Anchorage. These talks will focus on a number of aspects including the treaty itself, what it continues to do for birds and people, stories about bird conservation successes and what still needs to be done, and subsistence hunting and the importance to people’s lives and culture in Alaska. USGS – Alaska Science Center biologist will be presenting 5 talks about avian research around Alaska. The APLIC interagency visitor centers serve the public on behalf of eight federal and state agencies which manage public land and conduct scientific investigations in Alaska. For more information visit: link to PDF schedule 127 kb. For information about other public events in Anchorage and around the state visit: Interactive Rack Card, PDF 283 kb.
Bristle-thighed Curlews Travel 3,100 miles from Hawaii to western Alaska
This year marks 100 years of migratory bird conservation with the signing of the the Migratory Bird Treaty. Recently, 8 satellite-tagged Bristle-thighed Curlews touched down on their breeding grounds in western Alaska after flying non-stop about 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) from their wintering area on Oahu, Hawaii. Biologists at USGS Alaska Science Center are tracking the annual journeys of these migratory shorebirds to learn more about the routes they take and the wind systems they use to aid such long flights. These particular curlews have been tracked for 4 years now, and are remarkably consistent in the timing of their northbound flights and in their ability to pick weather systems that provide tailwinds. The birds will stay on the tundra breeding habitats for about 3 months to nest and raise young. Then in early August, the adults will head back to Oahu followed a few weeks later by young of the year birds. The 10-week-old young make their first southbound migration mostly unaccompanied by adults. For more information about our shorebird research visit: https://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/shorebirds/index.php.
Beak Deformities in Black-capped Chickadees—Citizen Science Contributes to Ongoing Study
Biologists at the USGS Alaska Science Center are trying to solve the mystery of avian keratin disorder, a disease that causes grotesquely crossed and overgrown beaks in Black-capped Chickadees and other familiar backyard birds. Reports of abnormal beaks in chickadees were first reported from south-central Alaska in the late 1990's. Scientists have since documented similar beak deformities in more than 3,000 birds from 30 species across Alaska. These deformities have a variety of effects on birds, including inhibiting their ability to properly forage and preen, and in some cases affected birds may not be able to keep themselves warm and well-fed during cold winter months. Reports from the public help USGS to determine where and how many birds are affected. Watch a video news story of biologists working at field sites around Anchorage and its vicinity—Beak Deformities in Alaska Black-capped Chickadees.
Earthquakes in Alaska—How Resilient are our Buildings
Alaska is earthquake country with four out of five earthquakes in the U.S. occurring in Alaska. The U.S. Geological Survey outfitted the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska with strong motion seismometers to collect data during a large earthquake. These strong motion instruments allow scientists and engineers to study the behavior and performance of a typical modern high rise building during strong shaking. These observations are useful to make our buildings safer and able to survive a strong earthquake. These instruments were put to the test on January 24, 2016 when a M7.1 earthquake struck Alaska. See the video that presents a visualization of how the Atwood Building shook during the M7.1 earthquake—"Shaking in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska."
New Geological Evidence Aids Tsunami Hazard Assessments from Alaska to Hawaii
A new study presents strong evidence for frequent large prehistoric tsunamis in the Aleutian Islands, and calls for a reevaluation of earthquake and tsunami hazards along this part of the eastern Aleutian Subduction Zone. The new evidence includes six sand sheets deposited up to 50 feet above sea level by past large tsunamis that probably were generated by great Aleutian earthquakes. The findings indicate a previously unknown tsunami source that poses a new hazard to the Pacific basin. Scientists used hand-driven cores, augers, and shovels to reveal the sediments, and used radiocarbon dating to estimate the times of sand sheet deposition, to establish a geologic history of past large tsunamis. The youngest sand sheet and modern drift logs stranded as far as half a mile inland and 60 feet above sea level record a large tsunami generated by the magnitude 8.6 Andreanof Islands earthquake in 1957.
First Ever Digital Geologic Map of Alaska Published
A new digital geologic map of Alaska released January 5th provides land users, managers and scientists geologic information for the evaluation of land use in relation to resource extraction, conservation, natural hazards and recreation. This map is a completely new compilation, carrying the distinction of being the first 100 percent digital statewide geologic map of Alaska. The map sheds light on the geologic past and present. Today, geologic processes are still very important in Alaska with many active volcanoes, frequent earthquakes, receding and advancing glaciers and visible climate impacts. For more information see USGS news release at: https://www.usgs.gov/news/first-ever-digital-geologic-map-alaska-published.
The Real Lives of Wild Reindeer
The USGS Office of Communications has featured a story about the biology and management of caribou and reindeer. The story "The Other 364 Days of the Year: The Real Lives of Wild Reindeer" features research by Wildlife Biologist Layne Adams with the Alaska Science Center. To learn more about Layne's research visit USGS Top Story at: http://www.usgs.gov/blogs/features/usgs_top_story/the-other-364-days-of-the-year-the-real-lives-of-wild-reindeer-4/?from=image.
Study Documents Increased Land Use by Chukchi Sea Polar Bears
A new study found that declines in summer sea ice loss off the coast of northwest Alaska were related to increased land use by polar bears suggesting that as sea ice loss continues, land use may further increase. While on land polar bears have little to no access to their primary prey, seals that haul-out on sea ice, increasing the potential for nutritional stress. Further, on land polar bears are in closer proximity to humans potentially leading to more human-polar bear interactions.
Changes in Snow Goose Populations in the Arctic
The Arctic Coastal Plain (ACP) region has experienced a warming trend over the past decades, leading to decreased sea ice, permafrost thaw, and advancement of spring phenology. The number of birds on the ACP also is changing, marked by increased populations of the four species of geese that nest in the region. The snow goose is the most rapidly increasing of these four species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calculates that the snow goose population in this region could double every 3-4 years. The ACP is a key study area within the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems (CAE) initiative and this week, scientists with the Alaska Science Center released a new fact sheet summarizing research findings regarding snow geese on the Arctic Coastal Plain. USGS CAE research is quantifying the response of snow geese and other wildlife species to environmental change in the Arctic and the implications of these changes for decision-makers. The fact sheet can be found at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/fs20153062.
New Publication on Changing Berry Harvests in Alaska
Wild berries are a valued traditional food throughout Alaska and their consumption contributes to a healthy diet in rural areas. Yet little was known regarding which species were important to communities and whether recent environmental change had affected berry harvests. USGS Alaska Science Center scientist Jerry Hupp and student employee Kira Wilkinson with the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) at the University of Alaska Anchorage, collaborated with coauthors at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to query local environmental observers across Alaska about berries that were important to their communities and whether berry harvests had changed over time. The researchers found that important species of berries differed among ecological regions of Alaska. Most (67 percent) observers perceived that harvests of important berries had declined or become more variable in the past decade. The study is an example of how observer networks can report on the effects of environmental change to wild resources in rural Alaska and help to identify future research questions. The paper can be accessed at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/ijch.v74.28704.
Geologic Map of Baranof Island, Southeastern Alaska Now Online
In the 20th century Baranof Island has drawn attention for its gold, chrome and nickel deposits, timber industry, potential activity of the dormant Mount Edgecumbe volcano, and for numerous hot springs that have locally been commercially developed. This map updates the geology of Baranof Island based on fieldwork, petrographic analyses of minerals, fossil ages, and isotopic ages for igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks. These new data provide constraints on ages of rock units and the structures that separate them, as well as insights on the regional tectonic processes that affected the rocks on Baranof Island. This work provides stratigraphic, geochemical, and structural evidence that ties Baranof Island geologically to Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii rather than other islands in southeast Alaska. To access the map visit: http://pubs.usgs.gov/sim/3335/.
USGS Hydrology Publication Featured in Special Issue of Water Resources Research
In hydrology, scientists have long relied on remote data collection platforms to quantify stream flow, water temperature and chemistry, which is relevant to resource management, public safety, and ecological applications. Information from these networks is increasingly reported in real time through satellite platforms, providing information quickly to the public, scientists, and stakeholders. Josh Koch, Alaska Science Center research hydrologist, coauthored a paper with researchers from the University of Colorado and Ohio State University for a Special Issue of Water Resources Research celebrating the journal's 50th year. The publication provides a forward-looking view of the utility of continuous water quality sensors and near real-time incorporation of such data into hydrologic and ecosystem models. It focuses on the McMurdo Dry Valleys Long Term Ecological Research Program in Antarctica and ways in which models from this system have and will benefit from such approaches. It also considers how similar approaches may be useful in other complex and remote settings such as the wild rivers of Alaska (pictured on right). An early view of the article is available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2015WR017618/full.
New Elevation for Nation's Highest Peak
With this slightly lower elevation, has the tallest mountain in North America shrunk? No, but advances in technology to better measure the elevation at the surface of the Earth have resulted in a more accurate summit height of Alaska's natural treasure. The revised official height for "the high one" has been measured at 20,310 feet, just 10 feet less than the previous elevation of 20,320 feet which was established using 1950's era technology. The USGS partnered with NOAA's National Geodetic Survey (NGS), Dewberry, CompassData, (a subcontractor to Dewberry), the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and the Denali National Park to conduct a precise Global Positioning System (GPS) measurement of a specific point at the mountain's peak in late June.
Matanuska River Bank Erosion
The Matanuska River is a braided, glacial river that flows between the Chugach and Talkeetna Mountains and across a lowland collectively known as the Matanuska Valley. For decades the river has eroded private properties, a major regional highway, and public facilities in southcentral Alaska affecting various communities including Palmer, Sutton, and Chickaloon. In 2011, the USGS, in cooperation with the Mat-Su Borough, completed a study assessing the geomorphology and bank erosion along the Matanuska River to improve the understanding of river processes and develop tools for identifying bank erosion hazards. The study approach combined measurement of historical erosion with mapping bank characteristics and geomorphic features. For more information visit: http://ak.water.usgs.gov/MatSu/mrbe/index.php
Also see news article "Matanuska River consumes home, buildings near Sutton, with more in its path" at: http://www.adn.com/article/20150723/matanuska-river-consumes-home-buildings-near-sutton-more-its-path
USGS Releases 5-Year Arctic Science Strategy
The rapid changes encountered in the Arctic region from climate change require reliable scientific research and up-to-date information to inform resource policy and decisions. USGS will focus its Arctic science efforts on six broad goals that are encompassed within the USGS Science Strategy 2007-2017 and closely align with the National Strategy for the Arctic and the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council program theme "addressing the impacts of climate change". USGS has released a two-page factsheet that describes these six goals and actions needed to accomplish these goals. This science conducted by the USGS will be instrumental to inform the Nation's resource policy and decision-making. USGS Fact Sheet 2015–3049: USGS Arctic Science Strategy 2015–2020 can be found at http://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/fs20153049.
40 Years of Seabird Survey Data from the North Pacific Now Online
This USGS North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database (NPPSD) documents one of the largest marine wildlife censuses ever conducted documenting the abundance and distribution of 17 million marine animals, including 160 seabird and 41 marine mammal species, over a 10 million square mile region of the North Pacific. The database represents 40 years of surveys by biologists from the United States, Canada, Japan and Russia. The NPPSD offers a powerful tool for analysis of climate change effects on marine ecosystems of the Arctic and North Pacific, and for monitoring the impact of fisheries, vessel traffic and oil development on marine bird communities. The unprecedented spatial and temporal extent of this dataset will allow researchers to address large scale questions never possible before in localized studies. You may access the NPPSD database at: https://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/nppsd/index.php. In addition, a new publication detailing the design, contents and a new relational database of the North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database 2.0 (NPPSD) is now available on line at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20151123
Publication Examines Factors Influencing Persistence of Polar Bears
Alaska Science Center scientists Todd Atwood, Dave Douglas, Karyn Rode, George Durner, and Jeff Bromaghin authored an open file report evaluating the relative influence of plausible stressors on the long-term persistence of polar bears. Using an updated Bayesian network model previously used to forecast the future worldwide status of polar bears, they found that polar bear outcomes worsened over time through the end of the century under both stabilized and unabated greenhouse gas emission pathways. The unabated greenhouse gas emission pathway hastened the time it took for some polar bear populations to reach a greatly decreased state. The most influential drivers of adverse population outcomes were declines to sea ice conditions and to the marine prey base. Stressors associated with in situ human activities exerted considerably less influence on outcomes. The findings also suggest that the adverse consequences of loss of sea ice habitat are likely to become more pronounced as the summer ice-free period lengthens beyond 4 months, which could occur in portions of the Arctic by the middle of this century under the unabated greenhouse gas emission pathway. The range-wide persistence of polar bears will likely require stabilizing CO2 emissions by the middle of this century.)
A fact sheet on this report can be found here.
Also see USGS News Release at: https://www.usgs.gov/news/greenhouse-gas-emissions-remain-primary-threat-polar-bears
Contact: Todd Atwood Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7093
USGS Publication Investigates Genetic Diversity of Kenai Peninsula Moose
Moose numbers have declined on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula along with their available habitat. A recent study by USGS and collaborators is informing whether population declines and geographic isolation of the Kenai Peninsula moose population has influenced their genetic diversity. In a publication of the findings, USGS Alaska Science Center scientists Robert Wilson and Sandra Talbot (and co-authors from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and University of Alaska Fairbanks) quantified levels of genetic variation of moose on the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage. The scientists found lower levels of genetic diversity in moose on the Kenai Peninsula than in Anchorage. Additionally, the study found little evidence of gene flow between Anchorage and Kenai. The study concludes that there is some evidence of recent gene flow within the Kenai Peninsula that may have been influenced by habitat change. The paper is available online in the journal Alces at: http://alcesjournal.org/index.php/alces/issue/current.
Wilson, R. E., T. J. McDonough, P. S. Barboza, S. L. Talbot, and S. D. Farley. 2015. Population genetic structure of moose (Alces Alces) of South-central Alaska. ALCES 51:71-86. [Details]
Alaska Glaciers Continue to Contribute to Global Sea Level Rise
For years, Alaska has been identified as a significant contributor in global sea level rise. A new study using airborne altimetry data from 116 glaciers directly assess patterns of glacier mass change in Alaska and investigates how surface mass balance and calving dynamics contribute to mass losses. For the first time, these data allow the partitioning of regional mass balance by glacier type – Mountain and Tidewater. Results show surface melt as the more predictable and ultimately more certain mechanism of Alaska’s future mass loss. This work has important implications for global sea level projections and will help improve models under a warming climate. The full article is available on line at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/2015GL064349. Also see news release at: http://news.agu.org/press-release/alaska-glaciers-make-large-contributions-to-global-sea-level-rise/
Tectonic Model Shows North America May Once Have Been Linked to Australia or Antarctica
Determining the geometry and history of ancient supercontinents is an important part of reconstructing the geologic evolution of Earth, and it can also lead to a better understanding of past and present mineral distributions. A new publication reviews detrital zircon data and geologic observations linking the histories of multiple ancient sedimentary basins formed 1.5 to 1.4 billion years ago along the western North America margin. This paper presents a tectonic model for how these basins are related to one another and suggests that the North American sedimentary basins were linked to sediment sources in Australia and Antarctica until the breakup of the supercontinent Columbia. The dispersed components of Columbia ultimately reformed into Rodinia, perhaps the first truly global supercontinent in Earth's history, around 1.0 billion years ago. See USGS news release "Tectonic Model Shows North America May Once Have Been Linked to Australia or Antarctica."
Jones, J. V., III, C.D. Daniel, and M. F., Doe. 2015. Tectonic and sedimentary linkages between the Belt-Purcell basin and southwestern Laurentia during the Mesoproterozoic ca. 1.60-1.40 Ga. Lithosphere. doi:10.1130/L438.1. [Details]
Ecology and Conservation of North American Sea Ducks
A new book provides the first comprehensive assessment of the status, population dynamics, and demography of sea ducks across North America. The fifteen chapter book "Ecology and Conservation of North American Sea Ducks" was a collaborative effort by 27 sea duck specialists from the USGS Alaska Science Center, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Environment Canada, DHI-Denmark, USGS National Wildlife Health Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Universities in Canada and the U.S. You can view the table of contents at: http://www.crcpress.com/product/isbn/9781482248975
Record winter flows on the Sagavanirktok River in Alaska
Record winter flows on the Sagavanirktok River in Alaska are causing major problems along the only access road to the North Slope. Streamflow is being forced to the surface of the river ice as overflow, rather than flowing underneath. This overflow has flooded the highway with ice and flowing water that is up to 10 feet thick in some locations. The road closed for three days, two weeks ago and for another seven days beginning April 5. These closures prompted Alaska Governor Bill Walker to declare the problem a disaster last week.
Dispersal of Avian Flu Virus between Asia and Alaska by Wild Birds
A new study has shown that two low pathogenic influenza A viruses detected in Alaska are nearly genetically identical to H9N2 virus strains isolated from wild birds in China and South Korea. Scientists used a "next generation" sequencing approach, a new type of DNA technology, to investigate avian influenza viruses in Alaska. This study provides evidence for intercontinental dispersal of influenza A viruses between East Asia and North America, a link that could potentially explain the introduction of highly pathogenic influenza A viruses to the U.S. in December of last year. This study was conducted by the USGS Alaska Science Center, USGS National Wildlife Health Center, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service The full article is available online at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0042682215001646. Also see USGS News Release at: https://www.usgs.gov/news/new-technology-helps-identify-dispersal-avian-flu-virus-between-asia-and-alaska.
Data Loggers used to Observe a Thermokarst Lake Drainage
Thermokarst lakes cover nearly 25% of the landscape in ice-rich, permafrost lowlands of Arctic Alaska, Siberia, and Canada and play a key role in hydrology, permafrost, carbon, and habitat dynamics in the continuous permafrost zone. A new study highlights the potential importance of increased winter snowfall and early summer precipitation in driving catastrophic lake drainage in the Arctic, which may have profound impacts on permafrost, water supply, carbon storage, habitat, and downstream riverine ecosystems. An early view of the article can be accessed online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ppp.1842.
Can Terrestrial Foods Contribute to Polar Bear Nutrition?
A new study, led by the U.S. Geological Survey found that polar bears, increasingly forced on shore due to sea ice loss, may be eating terrestrial foods including berries, birds and eggs, but any nutritional gains are limited to a few individuals and likely cannot compensate for lost opportunities to consume their traditional, lipid-rich prey—ice seals. To access the paper visit: http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/140202. Also see press release at: https://www.usgs.gov/news/polar-bears-unlikely-thrive-land-based-foods and DOI video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlI8NnpH9TE.
Captive and Wild Polar Bears Help Scientists Understand Response to Sea Ice Loss in Alaska?
Polar bears at three zoos around the U.S. (Alaska, Oregon and San Diego) have been wearing collars that contain an accelerometer, a small motion-detection device, which measures changes in motion. These devices can detect minute changes in motion and direction of movement, activity levels such as swimming or resting and the amount of energy consumed. These collars will provide a daily diary of the bear's activities. USGS scientists are using these data from both wild and captive bears to understand how present and future sea ice decline in the Arctic affects polar bears. These collaborative research projects are part of the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative.
For more information check out:
From Icefield to Ocean
Kristin Timm, Science Communications Lead with the Interior Department's Alaska Climate Science Center and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning, is among 10 designers who were recently recognized internationally for excellence in science communication. Timm worked with glaciologists Shad O'Neel, U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Science Center; Eran Hood, University of Alaska Southeast; and ecologist Allison Bidlack, Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center, to create an illustration entitled "From Icefield to Ocean." Timm and her collaborators received the 2015 People’s Choice Vizzie award in the poster division. The Vizzie Award celebrates the use of visual media to clearly and accessibly communicate scientific data and research. The figure will be published in the March 2015 issue of Popular Science along with other contest winners. See joint press release at: https://www.usgs.gov/news/alaska-climate-science-center-designer-receive-international-vizzie-award. To view the winners visit: http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/scivis/winners_2014.jsp.
USGS Identify Areas of Critical Mineral Resource Potential in Central and Northern Alaska
The report provides new maps that were created using a geographic information system-based method for identifying areas with mineral resource potential across large regions that will help aid Bureau of Land Management mineral resource planning. Identification of regions of highest strategic and critical mineral potential contributes to better land-use decisions, allows industry to focus future exploration efforts on areas of most immediate impact to national defense and security, and helps the USGS to target areas for new studies because of identified mineral potential and (or) need for additional data. To view the report entitled "GIS-based identification of areas with mineral resource potential for six selected deposit groups, Bureau of Land Management Central Yukon Planning Area, Alaska" visit: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2015/1021/. Also see USGS News Release at: https://www.usgs.gov/news/usgs-identifies-areas-critical-mineral-resource-potential-north-central-alaska
New Book on Sea Otter Conservation
A new book, Sea otter Conservation, recently published in January 2015 by Elsevier, provides information spanning 100 years of conservation and research from experts in sea otter biology, ecology, conservation and management including several USGS authors. Individual chapters tell the story of the sea otter decline caused by the maritime fur trade, the process of recovery following cessation of the fur hunt, and conservation successes and challenges in the context of the natural history and ecology of sea otters. An underlying theme among chapters is highlighting the lessons learned in sea otter conservation that may aid in the conservation and restoration of other species and ecosystems at risk. For more information on sea otters and the USGS Nearshore Marine Ecosystem Research Program visit: https://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/nearshore_marine/index.php. Also read more about the book at: http://store.elsevier.com/Sea-Otter-Conservation/isbn-9780128016879/.
Could Environmental Contaminants be contributing to Beak Deformities in Black-capped Chickadees?
In the late 1990s, biologists and members of the public reported an unusual number of beak deformities among black-capped chickadees in south-central Alaska. These deformities compromise the birds' ability to feed and preen and have important consequences related to survival and reproduction for affected individuals. A new study investigates whether exposure to environmental contaminants could be responsible for beak deformities in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. To read the full study visit: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/etc.2799/abstract.
First Ever Global-Scale Estimates for the Storage and Release of Organic Carbon from Glaciers
Melting glaciers are not just impacting sea level, they are also affecting the flow of organic carbon to the world’s oceans. Polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers contain about 70 percent of Earth’s fresh water and they store and release organic carbon to downstream environments as they melt. This has implications for aquatic ecosystems and their productivity because this material is readily consumed by microbes at the bottom of the food chain. Due to climate change, glacier mass losses are expected to accelerate, leading to a cumulative loss of nearly 17 million tons of glacial dissolved organic carbon by 2050 — equivalent to about half of the annual flux of dissolved organic carbon from the Amazon River.
Understanding How Carbon, Nutrients, and Contaminants Reach Streams
Boreal forests are the world's largest land-based biome and include frozen soils that store carbon, nutrients, and mercury. As permafrost thaws, these solutes are released, adding nutrients and contaminants to streams and greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The ultimate fate of these solutes depends on how water moves through and interacts with boreal soils. This process is complex, affected by soil type, permafrost extent, and fire history. This work combined soil experiments with stream chemistry to identify multiple ways in which water moves through soils. On burned hillslopes, water moves rapidly downslope through voids left by fire. Unburned hillslopes allow rapid flushing of shallow soils, and slower movement at the permafrost boundary. Thus, burned slopes may be important sources of stream solutes, while unburned soils may allow longer storage and biogeochemical processing of solutes. These results have implications for understanding catchment export and stream chemistry in interior Alaska and in boreal forests worldwide, and how they are likely to change as the arctic continues to warm. With this improved knowledge we can more effectively predict future stream solute loads and the implications for stream ecosystems, fish, and downstream environments including large rivers and oceans.
Studying the Genetic Makeup of Polar Bears—What Have We Learned?
A new polar bear study, has detected evidence of recent gene flow towards a region of the Arctic characterized by more persistent year-round sea ice. "By examining the genetic makeup of polar bears, we can estimate levels and directions of gene flow, which represents the past story of mating and movement, and population expansion and contraction," said Elizabeth Peacock, USGS researcher and lead author of the study. The goal of the study was to see how genetic diversity and structure of the worldwide polar bear population have changed over the recent period of dramatic decline in their sea-ice habitat. Also see USGS news release at: https://www.usgs.gov/news/polar-bears-shifting-areas-more-sea-ice-%E2%80%94-genetic-study-reveals.
New Publication on Wildlife Health
In conjunction with the publication "Wildlife Health in a Rapidly Changing North: Focus on Avian Disease" by Alaska Science Center Wildlife Biologists Caroline Van Hemert, John Pearce, and Colleen Handel, the Ecological Society of America website posted a news release that included a summary of the publication. The paper was published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment and is available at: http://www.esajournals.org/toc/fron/12/10. Also see the news release at http://www.esa.org/esa/tracking-elephants-ecstasy-and-emerging-diseases/ and Alaska Science Center Highlight at https://alaska.usgs.gov/news/weeklyhighlights.php?monthid=12&&day=9&&hyear=2014#2495
Polar Bear Study Examines Capture and Release Methods
Scientist studying and monitoring polar bears have depended on capture and release methods to assess a bear's health and to deploy transmitters that provide information on bear movement patterns and habitat use. A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey, examining the effects of a long-term polar bear research program, found that these methods do not have long-term effects on feeding behavior, body condition, and reproduction of polar bears. Efforts to conserve polar bears will require a greater understanding of how populations are responding to the loss of sea ice habitat and in many cases have direct implications for management decisions. This study is reassurance that capture, handling, and tagging can be used as research and monitoring techniques with no adverse long-term effects on polar bear populations. To view the study visit: http://www.publish.csiro.au/?paper=WR13225. Also see USGS news release at: https://www.usgs.gov/news/new-scientific-study-supports-capture-based-research-safe-polar-bears and Alaska Science Center Highlight, "New publication examines research effects on polar bears". Learn more about the USGS Polar Bear Program by visiting: https://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/polar_bears/index.html.
Update on Arctic Climate Monitoring Array—Data Series 892
The Alaskan Arctic environment is particularly vulnerable to climate change because of the prevalence of ice-rich permafrost, which is projected to degrade significantly during this century. In this Arctic region, permafrost is the foundation upon which terrestrial ecosystems and human infrastructure exist. The indigenous plants and wildlife of this region are highly adapted to extreme conditions, and large projected climate changes are expected to stress these specialized biological systems. A new online report supersedes USGS Data Series 812 and provides an additional two years of air temperature, wind speed, wind direction, ground temperature, soil moisture, snow depth, rainfall, up- and downwelling shortwave radiation, and atmospheric pressure data to that previously published. In addition to presenting data, this report also describes monitoring, data collection, and quality control methodology. The data collection is ongoing and done in close collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The new report is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ds892.
What do Calving Glaciers, Avalanches, and Earthquakes Have in Common?
As temperatures rise, melting ice and calved icebergs are the largest sources of new water contributing to sea level rise. Calving events happen when the end of the glacier known as the terminus can no longer support its own weight causing slabs of ice to crack and fall into the ocean. USGS Alaska Science Center Research Geophysicist Shad O'Neel worked in collaboration with an international team of scientists on a new study that found calving events behave similarly to earthquakes and avalanches. This work provides a way to incorporate power—law statistics, just like Richter magnitudes for earthquakes—and sets this research up to enable better socio-economic forecasts through a more complete understanding of the complex iceberg calving process.
USGS scientists worked in collaboration with a diverse group of team members, including the Yukon-Koyukuk School District, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, and knowledge holders from the Koyukuk River region of Alaska, on the documentation and placement of traditional and subsistence use place names. For details, see https://alaska.usgs.gov/news/weeklyhighlights.php?monthid=11&&day=12&&hyear=2014#2468. Also, the factsheet highlighting this project can be found at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2014/3105/pdf/fs2014-3105.pdf.
Southern Beaufort Sea Polar Bear Population Declined in the 2000s
A new report this week shows the polar bear population in the South Beaufort Sea in steep decline during the first decade of the 21st century. US and Canadian researchers led by USGS scientists say the number of bears in the area fell by about 40 percent, before stabilizing by the study's end in 2010. The scientists point to shrinking sea ice as one factor in the decline. Shrinking sea ice makes it harder for bears to hunt seals, their principal source of food. The polar bear was listed as globally threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008. View report abstract at http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/14-1129.1. For further information, see News Release.
The Map Store at USGS is Closed. For additional map sources
The Map Store @ USGS closed October 31, 2014. For alternative map sources, please see attached. For additional information on downloading or purchasing USGS maps, see Accessing USGS Topographic Maps or visit the USGS Store at store.usgs.gov.
Thousands of Pacific Walrus Haul Out on Land on the northwest coast of Alaska
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. In recent years, walruses have been hauling out in large aggregations on the shores of Alaska and Russia. While onshore, young walruses are susceptible to mortality from stampeding events. In addition, hauling out on shore forces walruses to either forage near shore where their prey base is understood to be of lesser quality or to travel long distances to their preferred offshore foraging grounds. For more information see USGS Top Story—Walruses are hauling out on land instead of ice because of climate-induced warming and USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems factsheet: http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2012/3131/
A M6.2 earthquake occurred in South-central Alaska on September 25 at 9:51 am
The earthquake was 58.4 miles WNW of Willow and was 337.27 feet deep. More earthquakes occur in Alaska than the rest of the United States and seven of the ten largest US earthquakes have occurred in Alaska. Most earthquakes in Alaska occur due to plate convergence, which is when the Pacific Plate subducts or descends underneath the North American Plate into the earth’s mantle. For more information about today’s earthquakes visit: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eventpage/ak11401855#summary . You can also call the U.S. Geological Survey at: 1-888-275-8747 or submit your questions to: email@example.com
For more information, videos and more visit The Alaska Earthquake Alliance: http://alaskaquakealliance.org/
Pacific Walrus Population Study Reveals a Long-term Decline
The Pacific walrus depends on sea ice and is currently a species of concern, in part due to climate-warming and the loss of sea ice. Sea ice is important to walruses because they rest on it between dives to the ocean floor to eat clams and other invertebrates. A recent study by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey quantifies this historic population decline where the walrus population roughly halved between 1981 and 1999. The USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative is leading research to understand the effects of the rapid loss of sea ice on the Pacific walrus and provide new information to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Understanding the current demographics of the Pacific walrus population is a top priority for the USFWS which must make a decision by 2017 whether to propose the Pacific walrus for listing under the Endangered Species Act. See USGS news release at: https://www.usgs.gov/news/research-shows-historic-decline-pacific-walrus-population and publication highlight at: https://alaska.usgs.gov/news/weeklyhighlights.php?monthid=9&&day=9&&hyear=2014#2410.
Interdisciplinary Approach to Studying Hydrology and Climate Change in Alaska
The Arctic and Subarctic are experiencing environmental change at a rate faster than the rest of the world, and the lack of historical baseline data in these often remote locations makes understanding and predicting regional climate change difficult. Strategic Needs of Water on the Yukon (SNOWY) is an interdisciplinary research project studying the effects of climate change using a holistic approach by investigating historical and current winter conditions in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta using water chemistry, snow, GIS and Indigenous Knowledge methodologies. Over 75 community members from 4 different communities participated by sharing their knowledge on historical winter conditions and activities. For more information view the SNOWY factsheet at: http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2014/3060/pdf/fs2014-3060.pdf . Also see highlight at: https://alaska.usgs.gov/news/weeklyhighlights.php?monthid=8&&day=19&&hyear=2014#2388
Collaborative Eastern Aleutian Megathrust Earthquake and Tsunami Research Field Work Continues
On August 2, USGS Alaska Science Center Research Geologists Rob Witter and Peter Haeussler will lead a team of eight geoscientists to look for evidence for the 1946 Unimak Island tsunami on Sanak Island. The scientists are looking to answer questions such as: how often do Aleutian megathrust earthquakes and tsunamis occur in the Sanak Island area, how much vertical displacement of the island's coast occurred during past earthquakes, how far inland and how high above sea level tsunamis inundated the island, and the age of ancient shorelines now stranded from the sea. This research will provide important data to update U.S. National Seismic Hazard Maps in Alaska and improve earthquake source models used to simulate potential Pacific-wide tsunamis that may threaten coastal communities in Alaska, Hawaii, the western U.S. and in other circum-Pacific countries. This USGS field work began in 2011 and is part of the Alaska Earthquake Hazards project.
USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems—Forecasting Effects of Fire on Winter Distribution of Caribou
Due to climate change, some communities in rural Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada may face a future with fewer caribou according to new research published by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in the recent issue of PLoS ONE. Scientists examined the future effects of fires on winter habitats of caribou herds and determined that wildfires will reduce the amount of winter habitat for caribou, thus caribou may need to shift their wintering grounds. To view press release visit: https://www.usgs.gov/news/climate-change-could-alter-range-caribou-and-may-impact-hunters-access. Also see CAE factsheet—Measuring and Forecasting the Response of Alaska's Terrestrial Ecosystem to a Warming Climate—http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2012/3144/.
USGS Commemorates the 1964 Alaskan Earthquake
March 27, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the Great Alaskan Earthquake, a magnitude 9.2 earthquake that remains the largest recorded earthquake in US history. Over the last 50 years USGS science has led to a better understanding of mega-thrust earthquakes, subduction zones, the earthquakes they produce, and their associated tsunamis.
Map Store @ USGS Closing Fall 2014
The Map Store @ USGS on the Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage will be closing. The store will remain open through October 31, 2014. A joint USGS and Alaska Geographic news release is available with additional information on the closure and options for obtaining maps in the future. Please visit the Accessing Alaska USGS Topographic Maps link available on the Maps, Products & Publications page for additional information on downloading or purchasing USGS topographic maps of Alaska. Or, visit the USGS Store at store.usgs.gov.
National Climate Assessment Report, Includes Alaska Chapter
The U.S. Global Change Research Program released the third National Climate Assessment on May 6. This scientific report summarizes the impacts of climate change in the U.S., now and in the future, and was developed over four years by hundreds of the Nation's climate scientists and technical experts and informed by extensive input from the public. The report includes a chapter devoted to Alaska describing how Alaska has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the nation, bringing widespread impacts such as rapidly receding sea ice, retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost leading to more wildfire and affecting infrastructure and wildlife habitat, and rising ocean temperatures and acidification which will alter valuable marine fisheries. To read the report visit: http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report.
Through the Eyes of a Polar Bear - First Ever Video from a Free Ranging Polar Bear on Arctic Sea Ice
This past April scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey applied video camera collars to four female polar bears on the sea ice north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and are releasing the first clips of footage that provide unique insight into the daily lives of the bears. The video shows polar bears interacting with other polar bears, eating, playing with food, and swimming on the sea ice in Alaska. These videos will be used by USGS scientists to understand polar bear behavior and energetics in an Arctic with declining sea ice. To view news release visit: https://www.usgs.gov/news/through-eyes-polar-bear and to view the video visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXuh_0u4leY.
1964 Great Alaska Earthquake "Story Map" Tour
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake, the largest recorded earthquake in U.S. history and the second-largest earthquake recorded with modern instruments, the U.S. Geological Survey has created an interactive "story map" that tells the story of how a 9.2 magnitude earthquake changed the landscape and lives of people living in Anchorage, Alaska. This "story map" combines maps, historical and present day images, video and more.
Click here to start tour: https://alaska.usgs.gov/news/1964Earthquake/
Follow Scientists Working in the Arctic to Better Understand the Winter Regime of Arctic lakes
About one-quarter of the lakes on earth are located in the Arctic making them a crucial component of the Arctic system. Arctic lakes release large quantities of carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere and absorb up to 35% more solar energy than the surrounding tundra during summer. Benjamin Jones (Research Geographer-ASC-USGS), Christopher Arp (UAF-WERC), Guido Grosse (AWI-Potsdam), and Ned Rozell (UAF-GI) have begun their 1000 mile annual spring snowmachine-based field expedition in northern Alaska where they will be studying some of the thousands of lakes in the region. Their journey began at Toolik Field Station, about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and will continue on towards the Arctic Ocean. This project will allow researchers to determine the impact of warmer temperatures, changing cloud cover and precipitation patterns, permafrost degradation, and direct human impacts on lakes across Arctic Alaska. You can follow along on the project website blog: http://www.arcticlakes.org/calon-blog.html as well as through Ned Rozell's weekly column in the Alaska Dispatch--"Seeking answers in the North Slope's permafrost-thaw lakes" and "On the North Slope, a research station comes to life for the summer" and his latest article in the Valdez Star, "Teshekpuk Lake Observatory a special place".
Arctic Climate Monitoring Array—Data Series 812
Every aspect of the Alaskan Arctic environment is expected to be significantly affected over the next few decades, posing a tremendous land management challenge for the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). To satisfy DOI's need for accurate environmental information and to improve future climate impact assessments, the U.S. Geological Survey has established an array of climate-monitoring stations on Federal lands in Arctic Alaska as part of the U.S. Department of the Interior/Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost (DOI/GTN-P) Observing System. This array currently consists of 16 automated stations spanning the National Petroleum Reserve—Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. These data were collected by the U.S. Geological Survey in close collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This new report is now available on line at: http://pubs.usgs.gov/ds/812/.
How is Climate Change Affecting Migratory Geese in the Arctic?
Every year thousands of black brandt geese migrate to The Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska where they molt their wing feathers, a process that leaves the birds flightless for three weeks. A recent study by USGS and colleagues from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service focuses on how climate change has affected habitat used by the geese. The study found with warming temperatures the flightless geese have shifted from inland lakes to coastal areas where salt marshes provide important habitat offering high quality food and protection from predators for the flightless geese. To view press release visit: https://www.usgs.gov/news/sea-ice-decline-and-permafrost-thaw-create-goose-habitat-arctic-alaska. Also see news articles: http://www.adn.com/2014/01/21/3284530/research-climate-change-good-for.html and http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/20140111/global-warming-winners-north-slope-brant-thriving-amid-changes.
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: https://archive.usgs.gov/archive/sites/www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp-ID=3653.html. 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 https://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 https://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/walrus/2012animation.html.
Polar Bears Older Than Previously Thought
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.
Shrews 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 https://archive.usgs.gov/archive/sites/www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp-ID=3261.html 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 https://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 https://archive.usgs.gov/archive/sites/www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp-ID=3067.html or visit USGS at https://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