2017 Alaska Marine Science Symposium Begins

Anchorage 1/23/17, Hotel Captain Cook

(most recent posts are at the top, older posts follow. )

Late afternoon:

Climatologist Nick Bond of the University of Washington gave an overview of the warm water “blobs” in the Pacific that have brought low biological productivity to those waters. Last year there was less of a blob in the Gulf of Alaska, but there were warm waters to the north, in the Bering Sea, where the sea surface temperature this summer was an astounding 4 degrees centigrade above normal. The Bering Strait did not ice up until after New Year’s. “It was the weather that did it. The ocean didn’t have a chance to cool.” The result? Lower productivity – a less fatty kind of copepod for fish to feed on, more cannibalism by hungry pollock.

It looks as if the blob conditions are now winding down, but for how long? Bond pointed out that if you project the trends of the current century into the not very distant future you end up with waters in which vibrio can live off much of Alaska’s coast.


Mid afternoon:

Who would think that 9 million year old fossils would help solve a mystery about whale beachings on Alaska shores? Smithsonian paleontologist Nick Pyenson did just that during a presentation on marine mammal fossils. There are fossil records in Chile of large numbers of beached whales that he says must have died from toxins from plankton. Among other evidence in the fossils is the telltale red from the iron of harmful algal blooms.

Scientists here have been looking for clues to what killed fin whales found beached along the Alaska Peninsula. The aerial photographs of brown bears feeding on those enormous carcasses have been widely circulated. But the toxins that might have done this don’t persist long in the carcass, and some have speculated that human factors such as vessel strikes and noise from seismic explosions and submarine transmissions might have been responsible. But Pyenson points out that none of those would have been present 9 million years ago in waters off the coast of South America.


Early afternoon:

The Marine Science Symposium kicked off with a very full presentation on the past six years of Japanese research conducted from two vessels, the Mirai and Oshoro Maru in areas from the Bering Strait to the Arctic Ocean off Canada. Not being icebreakers, the vessels have been seasonally constrained, but have placed moorings that monitor the waters. Among the results

– ocean acidification that is corrosive to the shells of marine organisms for long periods – up to eight months.

– warmer temperature waters roaring up through the Bering Strait and spinning up eddies that drop increasing amounts of nutrients that feed more and more plankton in the deeper areas of the Arctic Ocean where the sea ice has been withdrawing more and more early and freezing up later and later.

– a biologically very productive area off Point Hope known as Hope Valley where the currents form a dome of warm water that collects marine life.


Then Fran Ulmer, for now the co-chair of the Arctic Research Commission gave an update in which she chose not to mention that the Trump White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy seems to have gone incommunicado, at least for now. The OSTP is supposed to be the executive branch’s entity in charge of arctic science. What comes next, we’ll see. We do know that the White House has scrubbed references to climate warming off its websites, and an outfit called 314 Action is working to clone the data from federal agency websites onto private, institutional and university computers in case it is wiped out. I can hardly believe I am writing these words.



1 Comment

  1. Deirdre Aldridge says:

    I can’t believe it either. They are really that short-sighted. “We’ll just erase all mention of climate change while we are in charge so we can make our money fast and the next administration will fix any problems, I’m sure. Let us make money while we have power.”

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