AUSTIN, Texas A team of Arctic researchers led by the University of Texas Marine Science Institute's Ken Dunton will embark on a comprehensive study of the Hanna Shoal ecosystem in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's northwest coast with a $5.6 million grant from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE).
The oil industry is intensely interested in the Chukchi Sea and has plans to drill throughout the area.
"This important grant will help us continue studies we began in 2009, which demonstrated that an area known as the Hanna Shoal is an important biological ecosystem in the northern Chukchi Sea," said Dunton, a professor of marine science.
The main objectives of the study, which will be conducted from 2011 to 2016, are to identify and measure physical and biological processes that contribute to the high concentration of marine life in the Hanna Shoal area.
"We know the ecosystem is productive," Dunton said. "Now we are asking the questions of why is it so productive and how is it going to change with respect to climatic warming."
The study will document ocean circulation, ice conditions and organisms living both on the bottom of the sea and in the water column, such as zooplankton. Bowhead whales depend on zooplankton for food and are valuable culturally to the native Inupiat people of the Arctic coast as part of their subsistence diet, along with seals, fish and walrus.
"Industry is ready to begin exploratory drilling, but they want as much information as possible to avoid having any obvious or measureable impacts on the local ecosystem," Dunton said. "Knowing the location of biologically sensitive areas is very valuable to the permit holders. The information we gather will allow BOEMRE to make better decisions on how best to recover oil and gas from in the Chukchi Sea at minimum risk to the Arctic ecosystem."
BOEMRE will integrate data from this study with othe
|Contact: Ken Dunton|
University of Texas at Austin