A brief introduction to the Alaska Marine Science Symposium by blogger Steve Heimel, who will be bringing Alaska Public Media live coverage through Thursday, Jan. 28.
2:45 p.m. The afternoon has been full of presentations about fish, seabirds and marine mammals of the Chukchi Sea. For the most part researchers only have one year’s worth of data, so it’s hard yet for them to see how things are changing. But clearly they are improving their equipment. One remote glider went for almost two months by itself, listening for whales and walrus along the coast from Kotzebue to Wainwright. They found that whales moving into the area from the Bering Sea tend to range in places where the currents have brought Bering Sea waters into the Chukchi.
Then there are the cameras that were mounted on polar bears by Anthony Pagano of the University of California Santa Cruz. They wanted to track the nutritional requirements and habits of the bears in normal ice conditions. The requirements are huge, and the animals spend a lot of time resting near where they might find prey. The imagery, shot from under the bear’s chin, is striking. Pagano got some laughs when he stopped the video of one male bear just a moment after he encountered a likely female for mating. He also didn’t show the symposium any bloody scenes.
8:45 a.m. The morning began with some exploration of a couple of important questions about the waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Oceanographer Robert Pickart of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute announced the discovery of a new current in the Arctic Ocean. He’s calling it the Chukchi Slope Current – a flow that emerges from the Barrow Canyon and makes a right turn right along the continental shelf. Then Jessica Cross of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory gave an update on ocean acidification. At this point they are making comparisons between computer models and actual observations. Acidity in the Bering Sea is subject to a lot of different cycles, but the Chukchi is now to the point where 40 percent of the depths are exposed to corrosive acidity for four months of the year.
8 a.m. Lower 48 storm travel disruptions continue to bring some hiccups to the conference schedule. The latest no-show is Dr. Jeremy Mathis and his much anticipated update on ocean acidification in the far north. But while he’s not going to make it, his presentation is. It will just be delivered by somebody else. Also missing were some of last night’s poster presentations. But there were plenty that still made it. One that caught my eye was the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s sampling of tissue from subsistence harvested ice seals. Those samples from bearded and ringed seals show no signs that the seals’ physical condition is weakening as the sea ice withdraws. That includes the pups. It appears, Dr. Lori Quakenbush says, that when the ice does its earlier fadeout, the animals are able to find new prey.
Also interesting was some tagging data from transient killer whales in the western Aleutians, just a few of them, but with details about diving behavior that indicate the predators can feed on squid when they can’t find sea lions. Usually when predators run out of prey, they go into a decline, but that doesn’t seem to be happening with the killer whales. Most likely Dr. Bruce Wright of the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association will have some thoughts about this this morning when he is my guest on Talk of Alaska, along with yesterday’s keynote speaker Dr. George Divoky.
Poster sessions are part of the nuts and bolts of scientific conferences. It is often here that students first expose their work, and it’s also here where the first hints come that a major breakthrough may be coming. With a convention hall room lined up with rows of partitions and the science lining the rows, a poster session looks a bit like a science fair, but without the demonstration gadgets. Instead, there are just the posters, but often with their authors standing in front of them to engage in conversations.
You could say, and it is often true, that the posters consist of all the material that didn’t make the cut – not quite ready for prime time. But in the case of the Marine Science Symposium, it’s more just a matter of overflow. There is so much science that there’s only time for a small fraction of it to make it to the podium for the daily plenary sessions. There will be a second wave of posters this evening.
Today the subject in the Captain Cook ballroom is the arctic. Wall to wall 15-minute presentations by scientists both morning and afternoon.