Featured Scientists 2014

December 2014 – Student Spotlight – Lauren Divine
November 2014 – Student Spotlight – Jen Marsh
October 2014 – JJ Vollenweider
September 2014 – Andy Whitehouse
August 2014 – Dr. Lisa Eisner
July 2014 – Alex Andrews
June 2014 – Student Spotlight – Melissa Prechtl
May 2014 – Student Spotlight – Ben Gray
March 2014 – Sharon Wildes
February 2014 – Katie Howard
January 2014 – Alex De Robertis

Featured Scientists 2015
Past Featured Scientists 2013

December 2014

Lauren Divine, PhD Marine Biology Program

We are proud to introduce Lauren Divine as this month’s featured investigator! Her Arctic Eis research currently focuses on Snow crab trophic dynamics and stock characteristics in the Alaskan Arctic while studying with UAF from Anchorage.

Question #1: Why did you decide to become a marine scientist?

Dominica Elkhorn Coral - Acropora palmata

I actually tried NOT to become a marine scientist. When I was an undergrad, all my professors told me that there were “too many marine biologists” and that jobs would be hard to come by after graduation. However, after a study abroad to Dominica, West Indies, in my junior year, I was addicted to marine science! I had the opportunity to snorkel everyday on beautiful coral reefs and conduct lab experiments with plankton and urchins. That was all it took! I went on to complete a master’s degree working with a temperate stony coral, which required a significant amount of time SCUBA diving. Immediately after finishing my master’s I began a Ph.D. at UAF through the Marine Ecosystem Sustainability in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic (MESAS) IGERT. It is an amazing program with tons of unique educational and research opportunities. I feel very fortunate to be a part of the Marine Biology graduate program at UAF and part of the Arctic Eis project.

Question #2: What do you enjoy best about your job?

Lauren dissecting Snow crab with St. Paul school 4-5th graders.

I enjoy a lot about my research— each component brings its own challenges and opportunities to learn. One thing that I really enjoy is outreach and education. Whether it is presenting at professional conferences or developing and delivering exciting marine science curriculum in the classroom, I love to interact with others. I love outreach and education because it allows opportunities to change the way people think about some of the issues surrounding arctic and sub-arctic fisheries. It’s very rewarding to encourage an environmental awareness and conservation in others.

Question #3: What specifically led you north or into Arctic research?

With family in tow, it was move of a lifetime!

As I was evaluating my next step after my master’s degree, I knew I wanted to head to the Pacific Northwest. Salmon fisheries and management have always fascinated me, so I focused my job search on state and federal Fish & Game positions that would allow me to work in that field. However, I stumbled upon the MESAS fellowship announcement as I was job searching and I knew I had to apply. When I was accepted into the program, I moved to Alaska sight unseen and have loved every minute of it! It’s very satisfying to be a part of the Arctic research program at UAF and I look forward to continuing on in the field after graduation.

Question #4: How does your research contribute to the Arctic Eis project and its goal of promoting comprehensive and integrated study of the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas?

The future of fishing in the Arctic is unknown, a virtual black hole of information with which to make management decisions. Snow crabs are one of the only species that occur in the Chukchi Sea for which a potential future fishery is feasible, yet we know so little about arctic snow crab ecology. My research is focused on addressing several questions concerning trophic and stock dynamics of snow crabs in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. The information my project will provide may result in more informed decisions by fisheries managers in the future, and that is pretty exciting!

Question #5: What is the latest result in your research that most intrigues you?

Using observations from diet content analysis and complimentary stable isotope values, we have been able to categorize trophic level interactions arcross the Chukchi and Beafort Sea regions.

Preliminary results for stomach contents and stable isotope analysis of snow crabs occurring in different regions of the Chukchi and US and Canadian Beaufort indicate some regional dietary differences. These differences may be related to prey availability in the field, as well as owing to differences in the sizes of crabs. Larger crabs occur in the deeper (> 200 m) waters of the Beaufort Sea than occur in the Chukchi Sea, and size is related to the claw strength and prey handling abilities of snow crabs. In the Bering Sea, proportions of taxa in snow crab diets corresponded closely to local abundance of these taxa in the field (Kolts et al. 2013). If the same is true for arctic snow crabs, our results identify the northern Chukchi as a transition zone where benthic community composition changes from the Chukchi shelf to the Beaufort shelf. I find this very interesting because we see similar diets across the broad Chukchi shelf, but differences begin to appear as one rounds the corner and heads east into the Beaufort. Additionally, crabs fed differently between the western and central Beaufort, regions that together occupy a geographically much smaller area.

Visit Lauren’s SFOS Student webpage and her project’s Snow Crab Ecology page for more background information.

November 2014

Jen Marsh, PhD Fisheries Program

We are proud to introduce Jen Marsh as this month’s featured investigator! Her Arctic Eis research currently focuses on the trophic roles of fish through stable isotopes, as well as, abundance estimates and distribution of Arctic and Saffron cods in the Chukchi Sea from UAF’s Juneau Fisheries Center.

Question #1: Why did you decide to become a marine scientist?

Re-live Jen's childhood with this virtual salmon dissection provided by some very industrious students in British Columbia. Click Image.

Growing up, I spent many summers in Port Angeles, Washington with my grandparents. I remember anxiously awaiting my grandpa’s return from fishing trips and the prospect of watching him gut the fish. Occasionally, he let me help and I found exploring fish morphology, anatomy and diet much more interesting than my dolls! Throughout the years, I’ve retained my love for aquatic things, and getting my hands dirty. Hours of my childhood were filled with trips to Ediz Hook, listening to my grandpa talk with fellow fishermen and flipping over rocks looking for interesting sea creatures. My early fascination with fish diets continues today, as one of my primary research interests is trophic ecology (i.e. how species are interconnected through their feeding relationships).

Question #2: What do you enjoy best about your job?

Jen and Stacy Vega on the Bristol Explorer in 2012.

I enjoy the whole research process through developing research questions and designing a study to gathering and analyzing the data to communicating the results through presentations and manuscripts. It was particularly exciting to participate on the 2nd leg of the 2012 Arctic Eis surface trawl cruise to observe many of the ecosystem components first hand. I enjoyed checking out temperature and salinity profiles as the CTD was deployed, observing schools of fish on the echosounder, the anticipation of sorting each trawl catch, and seeing the diversity and abundance of zooplankton from the Bongo nets. Observing and handling one’s target organisms in the field is one of the best ways to learn!

Question #3: What specifically led you north or into Arctic research?

I grew up in a suburb just outside of Seattle and attended the University of Washington (UW). While at the UW, I had the opportunity to participate in Aquatic Ecological Research in Alaska Course, during which I spent a summer in Bristol Bay studying limnology, salmon ecology, and fishery management. I was blown away by the beauty and wildness of Alaska. Once I graduated from the UW, I applied and was accepted to the Fisheries Department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). I have lived in Alaska since 2006; during which, I have received my Masters degree, started a family, and am currently pursuing my PhD researching fish trophic ecology and distribution in the incredibly dynamic Chukchi Sea.

Jen and Stephen enjoy marital bliss the Alaskan way!.. and even Bella gets in on the fun!

Question #4: How does your research contribute to the Arctic Eis project and its goal of promoting comprehensive and integrated study of the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas?

My project presents a unique opportunity to assess the ontogenetic, spatial, and temporal variability of the trophic roles (trophic level and diet source) of key fish species in the eastern Chukchi Sea using carbon and nitrogen stable isotope chemistry. “You are what you eat” is a common idiom to generalize some uses of stable isotopes as a scientific tool. Stable isotopes (or, the heavier nuclide species of an atom) are just as advertised – stable – meaning they have a neutron or two more than your average elemental atom thereby making them less efficient to use and manipulate in biochemistry due to the extra atomic mass. Thus, the naturally occurring proportion of these nuclide species can change over time and serve as a biomarker for tracking elemental exchange within an ecosystem.

Figure 1. Arctic and Saffron cod niche space as defined by carbon and nitrogen stable isotope values.

Specific to this study, carbon stable isotope ratios can be used to assess diet source and general feeding habitats as they change little from source materials. Nitrogen stable isotope ratios, on the other hand, are used to assess trophic level exchange as natural, stepwise enrichment (proportional increases in stable nitrogen isotopes) occurs from prey to predator. My specific objectives are to: (1) create isotope landscapes, or “isoscapes”, from C and N stable isotope ratios in Calanus sp. copepods to quantify and visualize spatial gradients at the base of the food web; (2) describe the ontogenetic trophic roles of common marine and anadromous fish species in the US Chukchi Sea; and (3) assess spatial variability in the stable isotopic composition of the fish community by size class (Figure 1). Examining how spatial isotopic gradients in trophic levels are linked to environmental drivers can provide insight into potential community shifts with a changing climate.

Question #5: What is the latest result in your research that most intrigues you?

Figure 2. Ontegenetic increase in trophic level of Arctic and Saffron cod with increasing size (length).

As two of the most abundant fish in the Chukchi Sea, Arctic cod and Saffron cod play an integral role linking lower to higher trophic levels in a relatively simplistic food web. Through stable isotope analysis, I have found that both Arctic cod and Saffron cod increase in trophic level with body length (Figure 2). In both species, larger individual were approaching a trophic level of 4, which is reflected by observed piscivory in the larger individuals in complementary diet studies (Norcross and Gray, Aydin and Whitehouse). Age-0 Arctic cod and Saffron cod occupied a similar isotopic niche space consuming lower trophic level pelagic prey such as copepods (Figure 1, Above). Age 1+ Arctic cod consumed higher trophic level prey and a larger breadth of prey items. Older saffron cod switched to a more benthic and consumed higher trophic level prey.

Visit Jen’s SFOS Student webpage and her project’s updated page on the Food Web Studies tab for more background information.

October 2014

JJ Vollenweider

We are proud to introduce JJ Vollenweider as this month’s featured investigator! Her Arctic Eis research currently focuses on fish energetics with the NOAA-National Marine Fisheries Service from Juneau, AK.

Question #1: Why did you decide to become a marine scientist?

Evening jigging on the Arctic coast!

Growing up in Southeast Alaska, my dad took my brother and I on many fishing and hunting adventures. Ever since I could wield a knife safely, I insisted on being the one to clean our catch. My parents were hopeful this was a sign I was destined to become a medical doctor. Instead, my love for the outdoors and wildlife and fascination with guts morphed into my career as a fisheries biologist.

These little capelin became samples, but JJ could have filleted them no problem.

Question #2: What do you enjoy best about your job?

JJ sampling in the Arctic.

One of the best aspects of my job is the fulfillment I get knowing my research is used to manage some of the most sustainable fisheries in the world. I am proud to contribute to keeping our marine resources thriving and available to harvest for all. I maintain enthusiasm for my work knowing my findings will have longevity well after I am gone.
I also thoroughly enjoy the adventure of the field work and getting to amazing places that are off the beaten path. Much of my work involves things you couldn’t pay to do, even if you wanted to – like enumerating fish in the middle of the Arctic Ocean while worrying about your freshwater supply and listening to the Russian chatter on the VHF; or tagging sperm whales from a distance of ~20 feet from a 10-foot Zodiac in the swells of the Gulf of Alaska; or beating ice off a vessel’s railings while en route to survey overwinter schools of herring extending for miles.

Question #3: What specifically led you north or into Arctic research?

Shallow water beach seine net deployment.

A lot of my expertise is surveying fish in the very nearshore regions (20m deep to the shoreline) along the coast of Alaska. These areas are often overlooked by traditional fisheries surveys, which are generally conducted from large boats that are limited to deeper water. Nearshore areas are important habitats for juvenile fish which are highly susceptible to mortality through predation and starvation. This mortality during the first year of a fish’s life may heavily influence the number of fish surviving to adulthood, which is also called “recruiting”. As the ice in the Arctic melts, there is much interest in the abundance of Arctic fish species, both in terms of potential fisheries as well as describing food webs that ultimately sustain marine mammals, seabirds and Arctic peoples. Our objective is to quantify which fish species utilize the nearshore areas of the Arctic, and if nearshore areas in the Arctic function as juvenile rearing habitat as they do in other areas. Additionally, nearshore areas are particularly susceptible to oil spills and coastal erosion, making it important to have a baseline inventory of fish.

Question #4: How does your research contribute to the Arctic Eis project and its goal of promoting comprehensive and integrated study of the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas?

Preliminary spatial analysis of Arctic cod energy densities. It appears Arctic cod have higher energy content in 'oceanic waters' offshore in the Chukchi and at the head of Barrow Canyon.

For our component of the Arctic Eis project, we are measuring the energetic content of fish encountered in the surveys. The caloric content of fish is an index of their condition and consequently quantifies the potential for starvation in the case of juveniles, and reproductive success in the case of mature fish. Relating the variation in fish condition across the Chukchi and Bering Seas and between years to oceanographic parameters (water temperature), will help us understand physical factors influencing fish “recruitment” in the Arctic. In addition, we will compare fish condition to the abundance of their own species (competition) and the abundance of other species (predation and diet quality) to look at biological conditions that may limit “recruitment”. For example, “recruitment” of walleye pollock in the Bering Sea is best when juvenile fish are large and have a high caloric content, which occurs during cold years.

Question #5: What is the latest result in your research that most intrigues you?

Preliminary figure ocomparing Gadid energy densities over three different studies (Arctic Eis, SHELVES, and ACES). This analysis, which is still on going, does suggest Arctic cod tend to have a higher energy density than most fishes and could be a preferred food source for the higher trophic levels.

Of the 15 species of Arctic fish we have analyzed, Arctic cod are the most energy-rich making them good prey for their many predators, including marine mammals, sea birds and subsistence hunters. Fish condition varies across the large expanse of the Chukchi and Northern Bering Seas, and from year to year, which is likely related to differences in oceanographic conditions. Within a single location and year, we found significant changes in energy content of fish occurring over periods as short as a week during the brief ice-free season. The summer in the Arctic is very short and compressed relative to lower latitudes. Therefore fish have a limited amount of time to acquire the energy they need to survive the long winter when prey is scarce.

Visit JJ’s Recruitment Energetics and Coastal Assessment AFSC homepage for more information and research projects.

September 2014

Andy Whitehouse

We are proud to introduce Andy Whitehouse as this month’s featured investigator! His Arctic Eis research currently focuses on Fish Food Habits and Chukchi Sea Food Web Modeling with Dr. Kerim Aydin at the Univ. of Washington and NOAA in Seattle, WA.

Question #1: Why did you decide to become a marine scientist?

My becoming a marine scientist doesn’t stem from any single event or experience but rather a life-long fascination with water and all its inhabitants. Growing up, I spent a lot of time fishing and swimming in Lake Washington (Seattle, WA) with my cousins. We fished so often in the same areas we wondered if we had caught all the fish, and if we had how long it would take for the fish to come back. One summer we constructed an artificial reef from various sunken objects we found in the lake to see if we could attract more fish. Unfortunately, at that young age we lacked the scientific training to properly test our hypothesis; however, we were nonetheless sure our reef worked in attracting fish. Today, I continue to be interested learning how marine and aquatic communities are structured and how the species in an ecosystem are connected to each other.

Question #2: What do you enjoy best about your job?

Andy prepares the sampling totes in the background for a rather large bottom trawl catch.


... Though, sometimes a small catch allows our scientists to rest a bit in between trawls. You can see Andy is definitely looking forward to the respite.


Field work is one of my favorite parts of my job. I enjoy being out in nature where my data live, getting my hands dirty and learning how to identify the different species. Looking at data points in the office is more rewarding when you have seen the catch out at sea. I also enjoy analyzing the data back at the lab and seeing what story they have to tell.

Question #3: What specifically led you north or into Arctic research?

Interactive Fish Diet Composition tool on the NOAA-AFSC Resource Ecology and Ecosystem Modeling webpage. Click the link in the text to try it out!

My first job as a fisheries biologist was working with the University of Washington and NOAA examining the stomach contents of Alaska groundfishes. We collected fish stomachs at sea and shipped them back to our lab in Seattle for analysis. There the stomachs were dissected and the prey was identified and weighed. Much of this work was done in support of food web modeling work done by other scientists in our program. After several years of examining stomach contents I had a strong interest in food web dynamics and was eager to take the next step and start working with the data myself. At the time I began my graduate studies at the University of Washington there was interest in developing a food web model for the Alaska Arctic, and I quickly jumped at the chance to do that for my thesis. The Alaska Arctic, and in particular the Chukchi Sea, has been a focal part of my work ever since.

Question #4: How does your research contribute to the Arctic Eis project and its goal of promoting comprehensive and integrated study of the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas?

Information on species food habits is an essential part of understanding predator-prey relationships and how energy is transmitted through a food web. Much of our work with the Arctic Eis project has focused on describing the food habits of fishes found throughout the Chukchi Sea. We are using these diet data in combination with other data collected during the Arctic Eis project to construct a synthetic, ecosystem-scale food web model of the eastern Chukchi Sea. This model describes the network of feeding interactions between species in a food web, from top predators like seabirds and polar bears all the way down to microbes and primary production (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Eastern Chukchi Sea food web model output. From the base of the food web up through the apex predators, we hope to gain insight in predator-prey relationships and energy transfer throughout the entire marine ecosystem.

Question #5: What is the latest result in your research that most intrigues you?

Figure 2. Variegated snailfish diet composition by taxonomic prey group.

I think the diet compositions we have developed, especially for some of the lesser known fish species, are very interesting. During the Arctic Eis project we collected diet data from 39 species of fish, and for several of these fish species our data are the first diet descriptions from this region. One result I found surprising was the high proportion of fish in the diet of the variegated snailfish (Liparis gibbus, Figure 2). Previously, I had not imagined this species would be a top predator preying on other fish, but to my surprise more than 50% of their diet (by weight) was comprised of other fishes! In particular we found lots of pricklebacks, other snailfish, and sculpins among their stomach contents. Finding something so unexpected is exciting and also demonstrates how much more there is to learn about the Arctic.

Visit Andy’s Resource Ecology & Ecosystem Modeling Program for project background and his personal UW Webportal for contact information.

August 2014

Dr. Lisa Eisner

We are proud to introduce Dr. Lisa Eisner as this month’s featured investigator! Her Arctic Eis research currently focuses on Biological Oceanography and her team of researchers work with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington and Juneau, Alaska.

Question #1: Why did you decide to become a marine scientist?

Lisa slides headlong into Alaska and Juneau and hasn't looked back! Though she has moved on down to AFSC-Seattle, her research is still entirely Alaskan.

I decided to go back to school for a degree in science at the University of Washington (after earning a liberal arts degree a few years prior, and working a variety of jobs such as travel agent to social scientist). My first quarter, I signed up for an oceanography course since I had learned to scuba dive and was fascinated by the ocean (enjoyed tide-pooling, walking the beach, and sailing). I loved the class, so I took a few more and chose oceanography as my major. A few more years and couple of degrees later, I finished my PhD in biological oceanography at Oregon State and was fortunate to immediately get a job in Juneau, Alaska conducting fisheries oceanography in the Bering Sea.
As a scientific field, I’ve found one of the best parts of oceanography is its interdisciplinary nature since it combines physics, biology, chemistry, and geology to understand how the ocean functions. My specific focus is biological oceanography (phytoplankton and zooplankton ecology, in particular) and understanding the effects of the environment (ocean and atmosphere) on ecosystem processes.

Question #2: What do you enjoy best about your job?

I like to go to sea and collect oceanographic measurements, but the best part of my job is analyzing the data and interpreting the results. This process is similar to puzzle solving and you need to consider how all the pieces fit together to describe and understand ecosystem functioning from physics to fish. I also enjoy communicating my results, discussing and gleaning new ideas. I believe that scientific inquiry is most successful when it is a collaborative effort.

Question #3: What specifically led you north or into Arctic research?

After my first time on a survey boat in the Bering Sea I was hooked! I have now worked in the Bering for over ten years and was able to participate in a survey even farther north in the Chukchi Sea in 2007. I think it is extremely important to understand mechanisms behind ecosystem variations if we are going to predict the future effects of climate change, especially in the Arctic region. As I am particularly interested in climate change, the great deal of connectivity between the Bering and the Chukchi Seas is an important oceanographic phenomenon that can help explain transfer and exchange of water masses (and organisms within those water masses) from temperate to sub-Arctic and Arctic regions.

Question #4: How does your research contribute to the Arctic Eis project and its goal of promoting comprehensive and integrated study of the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas?

I have helped oversee the collection and interpretation of oceanographic data and am particularly interested in lower trophic level dynamics (e.g., phytoplankton and nutrients). I am also collaborating on the analysis of community composition of zooplankton and fish and relationship to water mass properties and climatic conditions.

Question #5: What is the latest result in your research that most intrigues you?

I think the difference in oceanographic conditions between 2012 and 2013 is quite interesting. Our oceanographic team found that the Alaska Coastal Current during mid-August through September appeared to continue further northeastward and off-shelf in 2012 than in 2013, as shown by the higher near surface temperature further north along the coast in 2012 than in 2013 (Figure 1). This could have large implications for transfer of plankton into other regions of the Arctic (e.g., Beaufort Sea).

Figure 1. Arctic Eis surface water temperatures from 2012 and 2013.

In addition, nutrients (dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and chlorophyll (chla, a measure of phytoplankton biomass) were higher overall in 2012 than in 2013 (Figure 2). We will continue to analyze these data to understand factors driving these inter-annual variations.

Figure 2. Arctic Eis dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and water column integrated chlorophyll a concentrations from 2012 and 2013.


Visit Lisa’s Arctic Eis Oceanography Page for an indepth update and her FOCI webpage and EcoFOCI webpage for details on the collaborative efforts between the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and the Alaska Fisheries Science Center RACE Division.

July 2014

Alex Andrews

We are proud to introduce Alex Andrews as this month’s featured investigator! His research currently focuses on relating fish distribution, fitness, and diet to oceanographic conditions to help understand the effects of climate change. Alex works with NOAA-AFSC in Juneau.

Question #1: Why did you decide to become a marine scientist?

Alex has angled for fish around the world. Though, an African tiger fish like this was more likely 'humaning' for him!

It was somewhat of a meandering journey that brought me to the field of marine science. As a kid I had a passion for fishing (still do). I traveled to many countries as a kid, because of my father’s job, and always found a way of catching the local fish, whether it was tiger fish and tilapia in Africa, trout in the Himalayas, or pike in Canada. I also enjoyed collecting rocks and fossils which led me to my undergraduate degree in Geological sciences. After arriving in Alaska, soon after completing my undergraduate degree, it seemed like a natural progression from geology, to biology, and ultimately to fisheries biology.

Question #2: What do you enjoy best about your job?

Field work and data exploration! Fieldwork is something I enjoy immensely as it provides the opportunity to examine the fish and zooplankton communities over a large geographical scale; when compared with the continental U.S., the eastern Bering and Chukchi Seas encompass an area extending from the southern states to the Canadian border! By returning year-after-year, one gets to gain an appreciation for how dynamic and variable an ecosystem can be and gain insights into how climate change may affect the region over the long-term.

Question #3: What specifically led you north or into Arctic research?

What brought me to Alaska was the wilderness and unparalleled opportunities to access and explore it! Growing up I had many opportunities to explore areas that were very wild and pristine. Once in Alaska, many of these adventures took place on or near the ocean and led me to pursue a career studying the marine environment. After years of working in the eastern Bering Sea I jumped at the opportunity to venture further north through the Bering Strait into the Chukchi Sea. I have enjoyed exploring and collecting data in the Arctic, at times within a stone’s throw of the ice pack!

Question #4: How does your research contribute to the Arctic Eis project and its goal of promoting comprehensive and integrated study of the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas?

Although, our research focuses on the distribution and abundance of the fishes in the Northern Bering and Chukchi Seas, it is the coupling of this data with the oceanography, fish energetic status, and diets that make for a truly interesting story.

Arctic Eis capelin information and preliminary conclusions of biological and ecological interest.

Question #5: What is the latest result in your research that most intrigues you?

The connectivity between the Northern Bering and Chukchi Seas was somewhat surprising. Some of the forage fish populations in the Chukchi Sea appear to be in sync with populations in the Northern Bering Sea. Many questions remain as to the source of eggs and larvae, and ulitimately the adults that inhabit the Chukchi Sea.


Visit Alex’s Ecosystem Monitoring and Assessment (EMA) Program webpages for the Southeast Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea to get more information on his work!

June 2014

Melissa Prechtl, M.S. Fisheries Program

We are proud to introduce Melissa Prechtl as this month’s featured investigator! Her Arctic Eis research focuses on juvenile pink and chum salmon growth and body condition. She is pursuing her M.S. in Fisheries from Juneau.

Question #1: Why did you decide to become a marine scientist?

The circle of life. After collecting scientific samples from this non-juvenile, Melissa enjoyed a sample on the dinner table!

My love of marine science started with a report on plankton in the 4th grade. I was fascinated by these tiny critters that make up the base of the marine food web. I have been hooked on marine biology ever since. During my time as an undergraduate at Oregon State, I was involved in several marine labs; however, it was assisting with various rocky intertidal studies that developed my interest in community ecology and food web dynamics. A summer research experience for undergraduates brought me back to plankton. I worked with Dr. Bill Peterson at the Hatfield Marine Science Institute in Newport, Oregon, to investigate the impact of ocean acidification on copepods and krill. Today, my research looks at how marine subarctic and Arctic habitats contribute to the growth of juvenile salmon. Because plankton are a direct and indirect food source for juvenile salmon, I feel that I have come full circle with my interest in marine science.

Question #2: What do you enjoy best about your job?

Melissa talks with 5th-8th graders at Nome's Anvil Science Academy about climate change and how youngsters like themselves can do their part to help mitigate its future effects!

For me, going out into the field is always the best part of science. I really enjoy getting my hands dirty! But, I also love outreach. As an undergraduate, I helped coordinate and give climate change lesson plans to visiting middle school students. Today, I continue to play an active role in the community by going into classrooms to discuss fisheries science and Arctic climate change. I care deeply about bridging the gap between science and the general public, and working with children and young adults is a rewarding experience.

Question #3: What specifically led you north or into Arctic research?

Melissa has enjoyed the Arctic Eis surface trawl cruises on the F/V Bristol Explorer. On occasion, it tended toward the wilder side of things!

As I was getting ready to graduate from Oregon State, I started thinking about where I wanted to go to next. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in marine science, but I also wanted to be somewhere new and wild. By wild, I mean a place with mountains and few people. Alaska was the obvious choice. I began looking into the marine research that was being done at UAF and stumbled across Dr. Franz Mueter’s web page. The project description of Arctic Eis seemed to be the perfect combination of climate change and marine science.

Question #4: How does your research contribute to the Arctic Eis project and its goal of promoting comprehensive and integrated study of the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas?

My research describes the growth and body condition of juvenile pink and salmon through analysis of a blood hormone (IGF-1) that stimulates cell growth and division. There is evidence this hormone varies directly in relationship to available food supply and marine survival. The trick is, climate variability in the Bering Sea has seemingly led to large fluctuations in salmon populations in the sub-Arctic and Arctic regions. Thus, by comparing this hormone in Bering and Chukchi Sea juveniles, we hope to determine how different habitats contribute to differences found in overall salmon growth and condition. That could give us an opportunity to evaluate how future changes in climate may impact salmon in the long term. My results will also compliment salmon age and growth estimates using otolith chemistry ascertained by Stacy Vega, another one of our Arctic Eis graduate students, to provide a more comprehensive view of juvenile salmon growth in the Arctic.

Question #5: What is the latest result in your research that most intrigues you?

Preliminary analyses from 2012 reveal juvenile chum salmon surveyed in the Chukchi are faster growing and have higher quality body condition compared to their northern Bering Sea counterparts. Furthermore, comparing these results to previous years (2009-2011), show that growth rates in the Bering Sea have increased over time. In fish, growth rate is positively correlated with temperature. Therefore, it is interesting to see an increase in growth rate, given that sea surface temperatures in the Bering Sea have remained relatively cool during this time period. These results suggest that feeding opportunities for juvenile salmon in these high latitude regions are conducive to the growth.


Visit Melissa’s UAF / SFOS student webpage to find her contact information.

May 2014

Ben Gray, M.S. Fisheries Program

We are proud to introduce Mr. Benjamin Gray as this month’s featured investigator! Their Arctic Eis research currently focuses on demersal fish diets and they work with the University of Alaska Fairbanks from Fairbanks, Alaska.

Question #1: Why did you decide to become a marine scientist?

I have always had an interest in biology, in particular biology and conservation of fishes. When I began my undergrad work at UAF in early 2010, I was offered a job by Dr. Brenda Norcross working with Arctic marine fishes in the fisheries oceanography lab. I soon began analyzing these fishes’ diets and was interested in how intraspecific diet composition differed depending on habitat and ontogeny. At that time, Dr. Brenda Norcross needed a student to investigate just that; to compare fish diets across the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Since then, I have been directly involved in Arctic marine science and find it quite fascinating. I am excited that my research will help to document essential fish habitat for some key Arctic fish species.

Question #2: What do you enjoy best about your job?

I really enjoy the lab work associated with my job; yet the fieldwork has also been very rewarding. What I enjoy most about the lab work, believe it or not, is dissecting fish stomachs and identifying prey. I think of it kind of like being a TV show detective (like in CSI or Law and Order) where finding little characteristics (clues) can be the difference between identifying a prey item, or having to lump it into the unidentified prey category (unsolved mysteries). I really enjoy this part of my research! The field work associated with my degree has also been very interesting. I spent two summers in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas collecting fishes for my research, all while learning the ins and outs of scientific trawling and enjoying the Arctic and its surprising amount of benthic diversity.

Question #3: What specifically led you north or into Arctic research?

My path to Fairbanks, AK and Arctic research has been full of twists and turns. I grew up in Anchorage, AK, where my dad was stationed in the Air Force. Shortly thereafter, he took a job in Memphis, TN, and 16 years later, I graduated from the University of Memphis with a degree in finance. I soon realized finance was not what I wanted to do with my life and moved back to Anchorage in the summer of 2006. I was a sport fishing guide for four summers in various remote rivers throughout Alaska. My experiences as a guide made me want to get back to fish conservation biology, so I enrolled at UAA then made the move to UAF and began working with Dr. Brenda Norcross.

Question #4: How does your research contribute to the Arctic Eis project and its goal of promoting comprehensive and integrated study of the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas?

My research documents the importance of Arctic Cod, Arctic Staghorn Sculpin, and Shorthorn Sculpin as both predators and prey in the Arctic ecosystem. By comparing these species diets between size classes and sea regions, my research contributes to detailing differences in essential fish habitat throughout the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. My results complement the stable isotope research that Jen Marsh and Lauren Divine have been working on and contribute to a more comprehensive look at food webs throughout the Arctic. If given the time, I would be very interested in working with other project components that deal with stomach contents analysis of Arctic fishes.

Question #5: What is the latest result in your research that most intrigues you?

I have found that there are large variations in same-species diets between regions of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas (Figure below). Although my research does not deal with fish energetics, when considering differences in prey composition and prey quality, there are likely intraspecific differences in energetics throughout each species’ range. Another interesting finding is that each fish species, including Arctic Cod, is consuming significantly more benthic prey (mainly benthic amphipods) in the Chukchi Sea north of 70°N. This is likely due to elevated benthic productivity as a result of some unique oceanographic characteristics of this region, including processes associated with the Bering Shelf Current, Hanna Shoal, and regional fronts.


Visit Ben’s UAF / SFOS student webpage to find his contact information.

March 2014

Sharon Wildes

We are proud to introduce Sharon Wildes as this month’s featured investigator! Her Arctic Eis research currently focuses on Arctic cod and capelin genetics and she works with NOAA/Auke Bay Labs from Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute in Juneau.

Question #1: Why did you decide to become a marine scientist?

... How else is one to trasition from studying brains to studying marine creatures?...



Basically, I was sick of studying brain tumors. Because DNA is universal, the field of genetics can take you down many different paths! I’ve found marine life to be much more interesting. Having grown up scuba diving in the Great Lakes, and having my favorite college professor, also teach at Shoals Marine Laboratory in the summers, I suppose the transition was inevitable.

Question #2: What do you enjoy best about your job?

Two birds with one stone; traveling and an unexpected spawning event.

At first it was the travel – collecting salmon for a genetic baseline of the Pacific Rim. Planes, trains and automobiles (and helicopters, and boats, and bush-wacking, and bears in the underbrush…). And meeting people from other countries who also cared about fisheries was fantastic. Today, I enjoy using genetics to unlock past histories of marine species and understand their current stock structure of today (who’s spawning with who?).

Question #3: What specifically led you north or into Arctic research?



College friends begged me incessantly to visit. Once in Alaska, I met a boy. Need I say more? Twenty-five years later…. I’ve found Southeast Alaska a great place to raise kids, who are proud to be Alaskans. It really is the last frontier. And there’s hockey. The research? Well, I found my skills easily transferred from humans to fish – we all have DNA!

Question #4: How does your research contribute to the Arctic Eis project and its goal of promoting comprehensive and integrated study of the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas?

Arctic cod - by Shawn Harper

Detecting speciation may shed light on all other projects investigating fishes in the Arctic. If there are really two non-interbreeding populations of Arctic cod for example, then each will have its own life history, and distribution. We are collaborating with Sandra Talbot of USGS, who is looking for genetic markers under selection in Arctic cod and John Nelson of Arctic Canada who is describing the population structure of Arctic cod over a broader range. We look forward to applying age data of capelin and arctic cod, provided by Tom Helser, to the population structure we ascertain with genetics. The tendrils of collaboration and integration provided by a comprehensive study such as this, is endless.

Question #5: What is the latest result in your research that most intrigues you?

My data (below) suggests capelin may be two species; a southern capelin residing in the Gulf of Alaska and a northern capelin in the Arctic, with a mixing zone in the Bering Sea.

Preliminary data from a genetic marker, microsatellite locus MVI-9, for two collections of capelin with 100 samples each. Each 'bubble' represents a different allele (variant) at the locus. The size of the bubble reflects the frequency of that variant.

Additionally, preliminary data suggest Arctic cod may consist of two genetically separate species, or at least, are confounded with another species such as juvenile pollock or Polar cod. Stay tuned!


Visit Sharon’s AFSC Genetics webpage for more information.

February 2014

Dr. Kathrine Howard

We are proud to introduce Dr. Katie Howard as this month’s featured investigator! Her research currently focuses on juvenile Chinook salmon abundance and ecology, and she works with Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Anchorage.

Question #1: Why did you decide to become a marine scientist?

The political fallout of Katie's career chioce of fisheries over herpetology was felt everywhere! Maybe even recently by Hollywood Actress Julianne Moore in the new HBO show 'Game Change'.

I grew up thinking I would be a herpetologist, studying reptiles and amphibians. My dad was a herpetologist, my older sister was a herpetologist, and I grew up being my dad’s field assistant. It was the family business. When I was a sophomore in college, I was doing lizard research on the Caribbean island of Anguilla. When I wasn’t working, I was out snorkeling on coral reefs and handline fishing for dinner with local fishermen.
It was a game changer.
As it turns out, fish are just as cool as lizards (if not cooler), and people throughout the world have a special connection to fish as food, a part of culture, an economic opportunity, and an important component of aquatic ecosystems. It was that combo of coolness factor and the potential to work on issues that can make a positive difference for people and for conservation that made me a convert: that’s when I decided to study marine fisheries.

Question #2: What do you enjoy best about your job?

I get to use science to make a tangible difference in the world (even if it’s a small one), by providing information to fisheries managers, stakeholders, and people who make fisheries regulations, so that they can make more informed decisions. For the fish and for the people who rely on fish (now and future generations), I think it’s important that decisions are based on the best information we can get. I find working with fisheries in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim/Northern Bering Sea region of Alaska particularly fulfilling, primarily because the fishermen and scientists who I work with are so passionate about what they do and it is inspiring to work with them.

Question #3: What specifically led you north or into Arctic research?

I came to Alaska from Hawaii, and despite what many people may think, there are actually a lot of similarities in living in these states: (1) the rest of the US treats you like you are a foreign country (especially when it comes to shipping and handling charges); (2) there is a strong native community that enriches the overall culture of the state; (3) there is a large community of people who like being outside (myself included); (4) volcanoes!; (5) we share highly migratory species, like whales and seabirds; and (6) natural resources are important in a way that they just aren’t in a lot of other places. I came up to Alaska to visit friends and it felt like home, so it seemed natural to pursue a job here. Before I knew it, I was trading in slippahs and parrotfish for puffy jackets and salmon.

Question #4: How does your research contribute to the Arctic Eis project and its goal of promoting comprehensive and integrated study of the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas?

Along with partner scientists Jim Murphy (NOAA) and Ed Farley (NOAA) and others, we are trying to understand mechanisms that impact survival and growth in the early marine life of juvenile salmon, particularly Yukon River Chinook salmon. Arctic Eis plays an important part in this research by providing a means of developing a comprehensive picture of the entire ecosystem and the role these fish play in that ecosystem. My particular research emphasis is 2-pronged: understanding factors affecting survival in this early, vulnerable time in the life of Chinook salmon, and developing tools that can inform management decisions for Yukon River Chinook salmon based on this information.

Question #5: What is the latest result in your research that most intrigues you?

In the last few years, we have learned that (1) smaller juvenile Yukon River Chinook salmon are less likely to survive and return to the river as adults; (2) in years when juvenile Yukon River Chinook salmon are distributed further north, those juveniles are less likely to survive and return as adults than when they are distributed further south; and (3) juvenile capelin are an important food source for juvenile Chinook salmon in the Northern Bering Sea during their first summer at sea (other food sources are more important to juvenile Chinook salmon in other regions).

We’ve also begun developing preliminary projections of returning adult Yukon River Chinook salmon using juvenile abundance information (figure above), and have provided that information to managers to assist with preseason planning. One of the newest pieces of research my collaborators and I have been working on is an investigation into the role of thiamine (a.k.a. vitamin B1) deficiency of returning adult salmon, resulting from changes in marine diets, on the early survival of their offspring. In other places, ecosystem changes that alter diets of salmon, trout and even alligators have caused thiamine deficiency and led to severe impacts on offspring survival and ultimately population declines. Some preliminary work we’ve done suggests that there could be some impact of thiamine deficiency on some Yukon River Chinook stocks, but much more research is needed to fully assess if thiamine deficiency is a concern and at what point in the salmon’s life their diet is changing and leading to a nutrient deficiency.

We have several projects lined up to build on these investigations and I’m really excited about what we may learn over the next few years.

Visit Katie’s ADF&G Northeastern Bering Sea Juvenile Chinook webpage for more information and view her co-authored Technical Report.

January 2014

Dr. Alex De Robertis

We are proud to introduce Dr. Alex De Robertis as this month’s featured investigator! His Arctic Eis research currently focuses on the acoustic-trawl surveys of animals in the water column and he works with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.

Question #1: Why did you decide to become a marine scientist?


When I was about 7 years old, I saw two scuba divers pop their heads out of the water, and then proceed to walk up onto the beach. At that point, I didn’t realize that breathing underwater was something that you could do, and I soon learned that most of the planet is ocean. I was pretty much hooked from there on. I grew up in California and spent a lot of time at the beach, which reinforced these early impressions.

Question #2: What do you enjoy best about your job?

The interior of the ocean is hard to visualize and we know surprisingly little about what swims and floats in the water column at (or over) any given period of time. Developing new methods to better visualize what is happening in the ocean is an interesting challenge! This is what my group conducting acoustic analyses try to get at. Additionally, this line of work brings you in contact with interesting people with different backgrounds; and sometimes things just click and you can accomplish much more together than you can alone.

Question #3: What specifically led you north or into Arctic research?


I wonder that myself sometimes: I started working in California, one thing led to another, and my work has gradually taken me further north. I was involved in springtime work in the ice-covered Bering Sea, which really drove home to me how much subpolar environments can change in a few months.

Question #4: How does your research contribute to the Arctic Eis project and its goal of promoting comprehensive and integrated study of the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas?

Together with my colleagues Kevin Taylor and Chris Wilson and other Arctic Eis participants, I am using a combination of acoustics (i.e. Sonar) and fishing trawls to measure the abundance and distribution of the most abundant species of fishes in the water column. We employ similar methods during surveys used for fisheries management in other parts of Alaska, which will provide for a nice comparison with what we learn as part of this project.

Question #5: What is the latest result in your research that most intrigues you?

We just completed a study of the acoustic properties of the jellyfish Chrysaora melanaster. This work suggests that these medusae are relatively weak Sonar targets compared to fishes with gas-filled swimbladders. We found that 1 kg of Age-0 Arctic cod will produce a sonar reflection that is >6000 times higher than 1 kg of jellyfish! Thus, although jellyfish dominated the biomass of trawl catches in the Arctic Eis surveys, most of the echo energy measured during the surveys is expected to be from fish. This is a key piece of information for interpreting our sonar measurements, and has also been gratifying on a personal level as I’ve always wanted to work with jellyfish, but had never had the chance.

Visit Alex’s Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering webportal at the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center site.

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