For thousands of years, Inupiat Eskimos have relied on the bounty of nearby coastal waters for their survival along Alaska's far northern shoreline.
Professor Deborah Bronk of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science is now leading a VIMS study of the Arctic coastal ecosystem, and how climate change might affect the supply of nutrients that supports the food web on which native peoples depend.
Bronk's research team, which will travel to Barrow Alaska in late January for its first winter field season, is collaborating on the project with colleagues from the University of Georgia and the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. The 3-year endeavor, with one spring, summer, and winter field season each year, is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.
The scientists' near-term goal is to better understand how the extreme seasonal changes that mark the Chukchi Sea affect nutrient inputs and the microbes that depend on those nutrients for growth. Their field site, at 71N, receives 24-hour sunlight between May 10 and August 2, and lies in continual darkness between November 18 and January 24. Sea-ice has historically covered the ocean surface from late October to late July.
The team's other goal, says Bronk, is to "study how warmer temperatures, increased runoff, and larger ice-free areas will affect the microbial community, and how changes there might ripple up the food web to affect larger organisms and native peoples." They also aim to investigate how climate change will affect the region's role in the global carbon cycle.
The polar regions are warming faster than anywhere else on Earth, with a rise in the Arctic of more than 7F in average winter temperatures during the last 50 years. The extent of Arctic sea ice has decreased by more than 30 percent since satellite records began in 1979.
Nutrients, microbes, and the Arctic's marine food web
A key question for Bronk's teamwhich includes po
|Contact: David Malmquist|
Virginia Institute of Marine Science