Marine Science Symposium – LIVEBLOG – Sunday

 A brief introduction to the Alaska Marine Science Symposium by liveblogger Steve Heimel, who will be bringing Alaska Public Media live coverage through Thursday, Jan. 28.

George Divoky of the Friends of Cooper Island nonprofit.
Bird researcher George Divoky will be one of the keynote speakers.  Here he is headed to Cooper Island for his 41st year of field research last year courtesy of the North Slope Borough.

This is the week when a whole lot happens in Arctic science. The latest results from last year’s field season begin to go public, by way of hundreds of speeches, powerpoints and poster presentations before about 800 people in downtown Anchorage. It’s more information than anyone could possibly absorb, but they’ll try. The investigators and students may be exhausted when they return to their laboratories, classrooms and computers, but they’ll have a much better idea of where Alaska science is headed, and where future research dollars are likely to be.

The Alaska Marine Science Symposium has grown greatly since it began as a way to compare notes on the damage done by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, funded by one of the spill’s lawsuit settlements. In 2002, it became one of the programs of the North Pacific Research Board, funded initially by money bid for offshore oil leases. Its scope expanded from Prince William Sound to the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea, and now the Arctic, with the arrival last weekend of a stack of proposals for more than $7 million in Chukchi and northern Bering Sea research projects, mostly tracking a changing climate and the ecosystem’s response.

The changing ecosystem surges increasingly into the headlines these days, with starving seabirds being found far inland, Chinook salmon still in a mysterious decline, and predators and pathogens like PSP and domoic acid expanding to new ranges. Mixed in with all the other science will be the latest data on these and other emerging science issues.

To select a few highlights — a high school student reports on the way bowhead whales changed their Beaufort Sea songs a couple of years ago, researchers disclose their discovery of a beluga birthing area at the mouth of the Susitna River, two new algae species were discovered in the Aleutians, a progress report on the first year of the Obama administration’s new emphasis on the Arctic, a presentation on the biological and behavioral benefits of living near or even under water, and one on what has been learned from four decades monitoring a colony of seabirds on an island not far from Barrow.

I have been going to these meetings for decades now, and I always come out of them with more and bigger stories than I could possibly report. Maybe blogging will help get the stories out. I’ll be posting throughout the event on as the events unfold.

–Steve Heimel