CFOS announces an opening for a President’s Professorship in Quantitative Fisheries and Ecosystems

The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences (CFOS) was recently awarded a prestigious President’s Professor of Quantitative Fisheries and Ecosystems by the University of Alaska President. The Department of Fisheries within CFOS invites applications for this position, a tenure-track, full-time (9-months annual state support) President’s Professorship in Quantitative Fisheries and Ecosystems. The position will be based at either of our CFOS locations in Juneau or Fairbanks, Alaska. Applications are encouraged from creative individuals with a strong scientific and academic background who will complement the expertise of existing faculty and contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of Alaska’s world renowned fishery resources.

Sockeye salmon at Pedro Ponds. Photo by Peter Westley.

The successful applicant will guide the development of a new proposed Center for Quantitative Fisheries Excellence (CQFE) at CFOS. This center will provide the scientific basis for sustainable fisheries management in Alaska and will train the next generation of fisheries scientists and biometricians to meet workforce needs of state and federal fishery management agencies, nongovernmental and tribal organizations, and the fishing industry. The incumbent will be a nationally and internationally renowned leader in quantitative fisheries science and sustainable fishery management. The position is expected to be hired at the associate or full professor rank, although exceptional candidates at the assistant level may be considered. The successful candidate will possess cutting-edge expertise in multispecies and ecosystem models, novel quantitative fisheries stock assessment methods, management strategy evaluations, and applications of these approaches to ecosystem-based fisheries management. The incumbent will lead a vigorous Alaska-based fishery research program that involves undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdoctoral researchers. The President’s Professor will also teach graduate courses in these subject areas, as well as upper division undergraduate courses in the new Baccalaureate Program in Fisheries and Ocean Sciences to be jointly offered by UAF and the University of Alaska Southeast. This hire is a vital part of our strategy to strengthen the fisheries program in CFOS at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. The incumbent will further enhance the profile of UA through service in both state and federal fisheries management arenas, and is expected to serve as member of organizations such as the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) Scientific and Statistical Committee, a group of experts responsible for setting science-based catch limits for federally managed commercial fisheries in Alaska. More information about the position can be found on the CFOS website at www.cfos.uaf.edu/employment.

UAF is Alaska’s research university and Alaska offers unparalleled opportunities for freshwater and marine fisheries research. CFOS has 52 faculty, over 100 graduate students and more than 50 undergraduate students engaged in research in Alaskan waters and throughout the world (www.cfos.uaf.edu). The College offers academic programs in Fisheries at the Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral levels in Fairbanks, Juneau, Kodiak, and Seward. These and other facilities throughout the state are linked by modern videoconference and distance-delivery technology. The Department of Fisheries maintains a strong program that includes 15 tenured or tenure-track faculty, two research faculty members, and four other faculty with primary appointments outside of the fisheries program. The current quantitative fisheries program is widely recognized as one of the core strength areas within the Department of Fisheries.

Qualified applicants must have a Ph.D. in fisheries biology, ecology, or a related field from an accredited university. Postdoctoral research experience is preferred. Disciplinary expertise for this position should be in the area of quantitative aspects of fisheries management and multispecies/ecosystem approaches. The applicant must be proficient in English, have experience teaching at the university level, and have a strong research and publication record appropriate to their experience and date of degree. UAF is committed to building a culturally diverse faculty and strongly encourages applications from female and minority candidates.

Interested applicants should submit (1) a brief cover letter, (2) a statement of interest and qualifications (including research, teaching, and outreach plans), (3) a curriculum vitae (CV), and (4) contact information for three professional references (address, email and phone number).

Applications must be submitted through Careers at UA for Job Number 508265 at http://alaska.edu/jobs/. To ensure consideration, applications must be received no later than February 2, 2018 by 11:55 PM Alaska Standard Time. Questions about the position can be directed to Dr. Gordon Kruse, Search Committee Chair, at 907-796-5458 or at ghkruse@alaska.edu.

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CFOS announces openings for two tenure-track faculty positions

The College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences (CFOS) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) seeks applications from exceptional candidates for at least two tenure-track faculty positions to complement CFOS’s breadth of expertise in fisheries and ocean sciences. We invite applicants with seagoing programs in chemical, geological, physical, biological, or fisheries oceanography, whose research plans include use of the ice-capable, Global Class R/V Sikuliaq, and who will further the mission and strengths of the College. These faculty appointments are intended to be at the rank of Assistant Professor, although outstanding candidates at a higher rank will be considered. These positions begin a broader campaign to hire up to five faculty to enhance research, teaching, and service in the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.

Brita Irving removes wings of AUV

Oceanography technician Brita Irving removes the wings of an autonomous underwater vehicle after a successful mission and recovery in Resurrection Bay outside Seward. Photo by Peter Winsor.

UAF is Alaska’s research university, North America’s Arctic university, and a world leader in both Arctic and climate-change research. The successful applicants will enjoy opportunities for collaboration within CFOS’s world-class, high-latitude research programs. The College offers a B.S. in Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, a B.A. in Fisheries, Minors in Marine Science and Fisheries, a new Master of Marine Studies degree program, as well as M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Oceanography, Marine Biology and Fisheries. The UAF campus houses the Ocean Acidification Research Center, the Alaska Stable Isotope Facility, a new Multi-Collector ICPMS, the Advanced Instrumentation Laboratory (AIL), and the Core Facility for Nucleic Acid Analysis. Our coastal facilities include the Seward Marine Center, the NOAA-UAF Kasitsna Bay Laboratory, the Alaska SeaLife Center, the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center, and the Lena Point Fisheries Facility. The College has over 150 faculty, researchers and staff based throughout Alaska, more than 100 graduate students engaged in thesis research in Alaska waters and throughout the world, and a growing undergraduate degree program in fisheries and ocean sciences.

Applicants must hold a Ph.D. in oceanography or closely related discipline, and preferably have post-doctoral and teaching experience. The position requires research, education and service that support Alaska’s ocean resources and the communities that rely upon them. The successful candidate will be expected to teach core courses and/or develop specialty oceanography courses for the graduate and undergraduate academic programs, develop a vigorous externally funded seagoing research program, and mentor graduate students. Interested applicants should submit a statement of interest that outlines their qualifications for this position and includes a research plan, teaching interests, curriculum vitae, and the names and contact information of at least three references. Applications must be submitted to Job #508328 at http://alaska.edu/jobs/. For questions about these positions, please contact Dr. Mark Johnson, Chair of the Search Committee, at majohnson@alaska.edu. For full consideration, applications should be received no later than February 28, 2018, by 11:55 PM Alaska Standard Time.

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New Gulf of Alaska mooring system will study ecosystems

The original story can be found at UAF News and Information.

by Lauren Frisch

data sensors

A ship crew member holds a Chukchi Sea mooring that contains floatation and housing for an acoustic zooplankton and fish profiler and biogeochemical sensors. Photo courtesy of the Chukchi Ecosystem Observatory.

A research team led by the University of Alaska Fairbanks will be able to continuously measure ocean conditions in the productive Gulf of Alaska ecosystem, thanks to major support from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust and matching funds from the Alaska Ocean Observing System.

Researchers from the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, Laval University and the University of Washington will install a mooring system in the Gulf of Alaska that measures a range of ecosystem parameters, including physics, nutrient and carbonate chemistry, plankton, fish, marine mammals, and particles. The data will help build understanding of ecosystem processes and connections between different ecosystem components.

“This project will add to the growing network of ocean observatories off Alaska and provide new discoveries and opportunities only afforded by real-time and interdisciplinary observations,” said CFOS Dean Bradley Moran.

The mooring will be placed approximately 60 miles southeast of Resurrection Bay along the Seward Line, a set of oceanographic survey stations that extends from Seward to beyond the outer edge of the continental shelf. Researchers have been collecting data along the Seward Line for nearly five decades. The data provided the framework for a new National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research Program study site in the northern Gulf of Alaska. Maintenance and upkeep of the new mooring will be folded into the yearly LTER work.

The mooring will deliver new kinds of data to scientists. The Seward Line program brings two research expeditions to the Gulf of Alaska each year, and, with the LTER grant, researchers will add a third. The new mooring will collect year-round continuous measurements of select parameters that represent many components of the marine ecosystem. These observations will help to fill gaps in knowledge and enable researchers to learn about how the Gulf of Alaska functions at different times of the year and over longer timescales.

“We know immense changes are occurring in our marine ecosystems,” said Molly McCammon, AOOS executive director. “Changes such as increased acidity, warmer temperatures and more frequent harmful algal blooms all could have profound impacts on commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries and the Alaskans who depend on them.”

With support from AOOS and the North Pacific Research Board, the same research team currently maintains a similar moored observatory at a site in the Chukchi Sea frequented by feeding walrus in the summer. The AOOS long-term plan is to establish one of these buoy systems in each of Alaska’s large marine ecosystems: the Bering, Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and the Gulf of Alaska.

“It took us three to four years to get all of the bits and pieces needed to build the moorings that we have up in the Chukchi Sea,” said CFOS professor and project lead Seth Danielson. “With the help of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, we’re going to have our Gulf of Alaska mooring completely outfitted in the course of one year.”

With nearly $400,000 from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, the project partners will invest more than $1 million in equipment and effort over the next four years. The remaining support comes from AOOS, UAF, NSF, NPRB and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.

Chukchi Sea mooring

Crew members work on a Chukchi Sea mooring with instruments to record currents, temperature and salinity in the water. Researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and other institutions will install a similar mooring in the Gulf of Alaska. Photo courtesy of the Chukchi Ecosystem Observatory.

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Student Spotlight: Amanda Blackburn

by Barb Hameister

Amanda Blackburn with fish

Fishing for samples in Mississippi.

When Amanda Blackburn’s sixth-grade class went on a whale-watching cruise, she was enthralled. It was her first time out on the ocean and she loved being surrounded by the water and the abundant marine life. “For as long as I can remember I have been interested in nature, and as a kid spent large amounts of time running around poking stuff with a stick,” the oceanography master’s student says with a quiet smile. “I also spent a lot of time asking questions about the world around me.”

Amanda grew up in Ogdensburg, a small city on the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York. Less than an hour’s drive north is Ottawa, the Canadian national capital. To the east lies the legendary Adirondack State Park, a favorite destination for the outdoors-oriented Blackburn family.

Many of Amanda’s family members have careers in medicine, and she entered college with the idea of becoming a doctor. In the end, however, her love of the ocean won out. During her studies Amanda became particularly intrigued by the question of how animal species interact with the physical environment. She graduated from the State University of New York, Potsdam, with a double major in geology and biology, concentrating in marine biology.

Pursuing different research opportunities kept Amanda busy throughout her undergraduate degree. She spent a summer at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory on Biloxi Bay, Mississippi, taking field courses through the University of Southern Mississippi. The area and the work appealed to her so much that she returned the next summer to intern at the GCRL Marine Microbiology lab. She also did an undergraduate research project on yellow perch in the Saint Lawrence River and assisted on two other laboratory projects, one on zebrafish and the other on bottlenose dolphins.

Amanda in lighted vest

Amanda during her internship at a Nevada gold mine.

But Amanda also wanted more hands-on experience in geology, and was accepted for an internship in exploration geology at an open-pit gold mine in Nevada. She found it challenging but extremely rewarding, and the experience reinforced her resolve to pursue graduate work that was linked to both geology and biology.

However, she quickly discovered that finding a degree program with that particular combination was not going to be easy. Amanda recalls searching through numerous catalogs and resources before she finally found what she was looking for with her advisor Jennifer Reynolds at CFOS. The two are now applying marine geological mapping and oceanography to seafloor habitats, and collaborating with fishery biologists on current issues.

Amanda appreciates being able to play an active role in developing her thesis research. While reviewing possible topics with Jennifer, Amanda became very interested in the diverse geological history and ecology of Kachemak Bay and decided to focus her research there. With advice from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, she narrowed down the possible species to focus on and settled on Tanner crab and Pacific cod.

The once-thriving crab fisheries of the Kachemak Bay area collapsed by the early 1980s after a shift in climate conditions that no longer favored crab populations. Commercial crab fishing has been closed since 1994. Groundfish species such as Pacific cod, however, thrived. More recently there has been a shift back to conditions that favor Tanner crab, yet the population has failed to recover.

Amanda’s project involves the construction of habitat maps that examine the preferences and distribution of potential habitat for each species, and where these overlap. She will examine changes in Tanner crab and Pacific cod populations in the areas where both are found, based on ADF&G survey data. These maps will help determine whether Pacific cod, which are known to be aggressive predators of Tanner crab, might have prevented their comeback through what is known as a predator pit. In this scenario, a predator persistently beats down the numbers of a prey stock to a very low level in a way that would not be possible if their populations were more balanced in the first place.

The results of Amanda’s work will be useful not only for understanding the ecology of Kachemak Bay, but also for fisheries management, as Kachemak Bay is the area where ADF&G conducts surveys to determine population estimates and fisheries openings for Tanner crab in the rest of Southeastern Cook Inlet.

Amanda taking photos in Denali

Capturing the natural beauty of Denali.

Life as a graduate student keeps Amanda plenty busy, but she has many other interests as well. Since moving to Alaska, photography has become a major pursuit, and she enjoys taking long walks with camera in hand to capture the local wildlife and landscapes. Music has also been a big part of Amanda’s life. While growing up she sang in choirs and performed in several stage productions, and she is a fan of opera as well as Broadway musicals.

An avid reader since childhood, Amanda enjoys all kinds of books but admits to a weakness for English history, both fiction and nonfiction. She also particularly likes space science fiction and says her favorite author of the moment is Terry Pratchett. While she often uses her Kindle while traveling, at home there are always several stacks of books of all kinds awaiting her attention—and most days, despite a busy schedule, she carves out at least a few minutes to happily curl up with a good read.

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UAF launches new master’s degree in marine studies

The original story can be found at UAF News and Information.

by Lauren Frisch

photo of rock, ocean, mountain

Weathered rocks adorn the shore of Kachemak Bay on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, with Augustine Volcano on the horizon. Photo by Brenda Konar.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has launched a new Master of Marine Studies degree to prepare graduates for science-based management jobs.

The program, created by the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, gives students a background in scientific processes without requiring them to complete a research-based thesis. Students can select courses from the college’s oceanography and marine biology programs, and focus in marine ecology, organismal biology, ecosystem processes or oceanography.

The degree program provides students with the scientific background and training to be competitive in securing positions within state, federal and tribal organizations in Alaska and elsewhere.

The marine studies degree is primarily project-oriented, but students will still have access to excellent opportunities to conduct laboratory research and fieldwork within CFOS.

CFOS is now accepting applications for this program. Visit the CFOS Marine Studies Graduate Program page for more information on the program’s requirements.

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Brenda Konar, bhkonar@alaska.edu, 907-474-5028

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Underwater cameras help track ocean carbon and nutrients

The original story can be found at UAF News and Information.

by Lauren Frisch

Ocean particles near the equator efficiently transport carbon deep underwater, according to a new study that used high-resolution cameras to document this climate-related phenomenon.

An instrument used for ocean sampling is mounted to a device that records conductivity, temperature and depth. Photo by Andrew McDonnell.

An international team that included Andrew McDonnell, assistant professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, used the revolutionary cameras to track how carbon and nutrients cycle through the ocean and around the globe.

“We studied different kinds of particles that transport carbon and nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus deep into the ocean,” said McDonnell, describing a process known as sequestration. “The deeper particulate carbon is transported in the water, the longer it takes to be transported back to the surface ocean, where it may be released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.”

Human-generated emissions are increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As scientists map out the possible impacts, it is important to determine the amount and spatial patterns of carbon that are transported and stored deep in the ocean.

The study results could improve the accuracy of carbon models that help predict changes in the global climate. The results also will help researchers better predict the flow of nutrients to different regions of the world.

McDonnell noted that nutrients sequestered in the Pacific Ocean’s equatorial region benefit Alaska’s marine ecosystems. A deep current moves water submerged near the equator in the Pacific Ocean northward. This current surfaces in the Gulf of Alaska, delivering nutrients that fuel the region’s productive oceans and fisheries.

The team used three underwater vision profiler cameras to collect data from equatorial regions in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The cameras have onboard computers that generate data on the number, sizes, shapes and other attributes of particles captured in each photograph. The UVP can do all of this at high speeds, capturing and analyzing about six images per second.

“This research would not have been possible without the use of the UVPs,” McDonnell explained. “Previously, we were constrained to physically going out to the middle of the ocean, collecting one sample at a time using sediment traps and measuring all of the carbon in that sample as a single unit. Now, these cameras allow us to see new details about how the ocean works on much higher resolution scales, while at the same time connecting many similar observations from across the globe.”

McDonnell is excited to use UVPs to learn about particle cycling in other regions. In the coming year, his laboratory will extend these observations into the Pacific Sector of the Southern Ocean, a vast, productive and understudied region along Antarctica. McDonnell’s UVP was purchased by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.

Read the study in Nature Geoscience.

Jim Burkitt, left, and Andrew McDonnell recover an instrument during night operations in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Photo by Andrew McDonnell.

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Andrew McDonnell, amcdonnell@alaska.edu, 907-474-7529

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New sensors continuously monitor Kachemak Bay’s acidification

The original story can be found at UAF News and Information.

by Lauren Frisch

Scientists now have five new sensors that will continuously monitor ocean acidification conditions in Alaska’s Kachemak Bay.

go pro image

SeaFET pH sensors secured to the dock piling in front of the Kasitsna Bay Laboratory in Kachemak Bay. Photo courtesy of Amanda Kelley.

The sensors, installed in September, allow researchers from University of Alaska Fairbanks, Kachemak Bay Research Reserve and Kasitsna Bay Laboratory to collect a range of environmental data.

A research team led by UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences professor Amanda Kelley will use the data to study how ocean acidification affects different organisms in shallow areas along the coast. Nearshore ecosystems protect the coastline and provide important habitat for marine animals. Despite Alaska’s vast coastlines and vital fisheries, little is known about how ocean acidification affects these ecosystems.

Ocean acidification is a long-term decrease in ocean pH caused by increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide. The CFOS Ocean Acidification Research Center has monitored ocean acidification in the open ocean since 2011. It only recently became possible to monitor nearshore environments with the same precision.

“Nearshore ecosystems are complicated because they receive input from the open ocean as well as glaciers, rivers, the seafloor and more,” Kelley said. “But they are also very important, because many commercial fish and shellfish species in Alaska use the nearshore as a nursery environment. Understanding how pH fluctuates in nearshore environments will help us better understand what it might mean for species that are trying to grow and develop in the bay.”

As ocean acidification intensifies, animals like crabs and mollusks that make shells out of calcium carbonate may have difficulty growing or maintaining these shells. Often, these animals are most vulnerable to changes in pH when they are developing. Because nearshore environments serve as a nursery for many species, even small fluctuations in pH may have a substantial impact.

But if animals are used to rapidly changing conditions in the nearshore, they might actually be better adapted to changes in pH than animals living in more stable or constant marine environments. Monitoring regular seasonal fluctuations in pH will help Kelley’s team understand what kind of pH variability nearshore species can withstand.

Metridium farcimen

Metridium farcimen , the giant plumose anemone is one of many species that inhabits Kachemak Bay, which is know for its incredible biological diversity. Photo courtesy of Amanda Kelley.

Data collected by the sensors will show how Kachemak Bay pH conditions vary throughout the seasons and how they are changing over time. By comparing trends in pH to biological and ecosystem data, Kelley’s team hopes to understand how ocean acidification fits into the broader context of ecosystem change in Kachemak Bay. UAF and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Habitat Blueprint funded the research.

The sensors will remain in the water for a year before being recovered to download data and check the batteries. A few times a year, the researchers will check that the sensors are consistent with actual water conditions. All of this can be done by scuba divers in small boats.

“It’s a low-maintenance program,” Kelley said. “Yet the ability to collect continuous data from five sensors in the same bay is groundbreaking for Alaska. We don’t have this comprehensive a data set anywhere in the state.”

Eventually, the researchers hope to expand the program to other parts of coastal Alaska.

This research will benefit people living near Kachemak Bay who rely on the bay as a source of food, said Angela Doroff, a research coordinator at the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Residents of Kachemak Bay are engaged in coastal issues and want to have a better understanding of what’s going on in their backyard, she said.

sunset

Kachemak Bay at sunset, taken from the dock at the Kasitsna Bay Laboratory. Photo courtesy of Amanda Kelley.

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Amanda Kelley, 907-474-2474, alkelley@alaska.edu; Angela Doroff, 541-888-8270 x 315, adoroff@alaska.edu

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A volunteer collects seawater from the deep on the Seward Line

The original series can be found on the Alaska Sea Grant blog.

Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory faculty member Terry Johnson spent a week aboard the research vessel Tiglax in the Gulf of Alaska as part of the Seward Line program. This four part blog series documents his work and adventures while out at sea.

Part 1: On the open ocean in the Gulf of Alaska, a scientist’s assistant bottles up water samples while sleep-deprived.

Part 2: On a September run, the Tiglax zigzags from station to station and back again in the Gulf of Alaska. Researchers sample water with standard tools and test a new industrial-size collecting apparatus.

Part 3: After the team works their way through the stations, lowering and raising the CTD overboard, they take a break to walk on an iceberg calved from a glacier in Prince William Sound.

Part 4: The last day of a research vessel cruise may involve the hardest work, but everyone on board has the same goal—dismantle the gear, pack it up, offload by the ton, stow equipment and get it ready for shipment, and then celebrate the accomplishments.

The multinet, ready for deployment. Photo by Terry Johnson.

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Research ship will avoid disrupting Alaska Native hunters

The original story can be found at UAF News and Information.

by Lauren Frisch

Scientists using the research vessel Sikuliaq have a new process to avoid disrupting Alaska Native hunters in coastal communities.

Sikuliaq

The research vessel Sikuliaq travels through icy waters. Photo by Mark Teckenbrock.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences operates the ship, which was designed to work in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions where coastal community residents hunt for whales, seals, walruses and other animals.

Researchers using Sikuliaq and coastal community members will use the new process to discuss research cruise plans and avoid conflicts between scientific research activity and subsistence hunting or other cultural practices. A key goal of the process is to develop cruise strategies that ensure the needs of both Sikuliaq researchers and coastal community members are met.

“Each Arctic research cruise will have different circumstances and require different conversations,” said Brenda Konar, associate dean of research at CFOS. “We designed our standard operating procedures to be flexible to the needs of each research operation, and to grow and adapt as the underlying circumstances change.”

Sikuliaq researchers on ice

Researchers working on ice during Sikuliaq's Juranek cruise. Photo by Kim Kenny.

 

Sikuliaq is the first vessel in the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System to adopt such a process. The procedures are based on suggestions from the Arctic Waterways Safety Committee. The committee was created in 2014 “to ensure a safe, efficient and predictable operating environment for all Arctic waterway users.” Its 15 members primarily represent subsistence hunters, companies and municipalities.

“We hope that other research vessel operators will consider using this document to help meet the needs of their research field studies being conducted in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters,” said CFOS Dean Bradley Moran.

Read about the agreement in an article published by the academic journal Marine Policy in September.

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Brenda Konar, bhkonar@alaska.edu, 907-474-5028; Bradley Moran, sbmoran@alaska.edu, 907-474-7210

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Chena logjams could be key to salmon survival

The original story can be found at UAF News and Information.

by Lauren Frisch

The plentiful logjams that line the Chena River can be annoying, scary or even dangerous for kayakers and canoers traveling downstream. But researchers believe they could be safe and supportive habitat allowing young salmon to survive the treacherous journey to adulthood.

Research techs at logjam

Research technicians Brian Crabill and Nate Cathcart conduct a snorkel survey of a logjam in the Chena River. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.

This summer, researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mapped out distributions of logjams in the Chena River and measured the abundance of juvenile Chinook salmon at each site. Together, the measurements will reveal how juvenile salmon rely on these habitats for growth and development.

Juvenile salmon are vulnerable to strong river currents and predation by larger fish as they grow, and they need a constant, stable source of food. Researchers believe that logjams, depending on size, external environment and placement in the water, provide the perfect habitat for these fish.

“Logjams are often situated where they provide refuge from predation and high flow velocities, where fish can easily move in and out to get enough to eat,” said Jeff Falke, a professor at the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences and Institute of Arctic Biology, and a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Salmon are an important resource for commercial fisheries as well as recreational and subsistence fishermen in Alaska. The Yukon River drainage has almost 200 spawning areas for Chinook salmon in Alaska and Canada. In the past, the Chena River has been in the top five spawning areas, based on the number of fish that return to the river to spawn. But in recent years, the number of adult Chinook salmon in the Chena River has declined from a high of more than 13,000 fish in 1997 to fewer than 2,000 in 2013.

Research technicians floating down Chena River

Research technicians Brian Crabill and Nate Cathcart float down the Chena River. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.

“The Chena River is one of the most important rivers to spawning Chinook salmon in Interior Alaska, but 100 years of human settlement has had implications for this habitat,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Jimmy Fox. “If we can figure out how juvenile salmon are using logjams, we may be able to work with the public to construct additional logjams in the Chena River to help support salmon populations moving forward.”

In particular, the researchers are interested in studying the area of the Chena River below the manmade Moose Creek dam. “Ecologically speaking, this area below the dam should be one of the best habitats for juvenile salmon,” Falke said. “But in recent years, numbers have consistently been lower than what we think they could be. This could be because the dam is preventing wood from flowing downstream, thereby impairing logjam formation and reducing possible habitats for the fish.”

The researchers set out to count all of the logjams in the Chena River and then determine how many salmon were able to live in small, medium and large jams. These two stages of sampling were funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

First, research technicians Brian Crabill and Nate Cathcart started at the farthest-upstream point of the Chena River where Chinook salmon live. They floated down each fork, taking a GPS measurement for every logjam they spotted along the way. Each logjam was measured and categorized into small, medium or large based on size and number of logs. They noted which side of the river channel the jam was located on and how much of the logjam was underneath the surface of the river.

During the second phase of the study, they performed snorkel surveys at a random sample of small, medium and large logjams that had been measured in the first phase of sampling. At each of the chosen jams, either Crabill or Cathcart (randomly selected by a coin toss) would snorkel from the downstream end of the logjam to the upstream end, counting all of the juvenile salmon and other species found along the way.

Logjam on China River

Jeff Falke and Lauren Frisch spot some salmon swimming around a logjam in the Chena River. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.

The researchers hope these measurements will reveal how salmon use different types of logjams, if certain areas of the Chena River provide better habitats and how many salmon the logjams can support. This will give an indication of the value these logjams provide for the salmon population and ecosystem as a whole, and will help managers consider if and how constructed logjams could enhance salmon populations in the Chena River.

Falke and his team also plan to compare the GPS measurements for Chena River logjams to high-resolution imagery in the region. If the comparison reveals that the imagery does a sufficient job of counting logjams from space, this method could be used to remotely monitor the size and number of jams on the Chena River year after year. This could help the researchers better understand how the river and logjams are changing over time, and accordingly alter their estimates for the capacity of the jams to nurture juvenile salmon.

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Jeff Falke, jfalke4@alaska.edu, 907-474-6044

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