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Monitoring Arctic Change in 2020
Jessica Mkitarian
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Monitoring Arctic Change in 2020

From spring to early fall in a typical year, NOAA and research partners conduct several important scientific surveys in the U.S. waters of the Bering and Chukchi Seas. Scientists collect oceanographic and biological data that are used to inform fisheries management, monitor whale populations and support Arctic ecosystem and climate studies.

This annual research is essential to understanding a rapidly changing Arctic.

But this was no usual year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While NOAA has had to cancel many of its planned research surveys in Alaska, it has been able to conduct a number of scaled-back research surveys in 2020. One such survey was conducted on board NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson and collected critical data supporting a long time series involving many scientific partners.

With the help of the Oscar Dyson’s crew, which has gone above and beyond their normal duties to assist the scientists during the survey and ensure the continued collection of data, scientists are retrieving and deploying some of the moorings that gather data year-round in the Bering and Chukchi Seas. These moorings are equipped with sensors to collect measurements of nutrients and oceanographic conditions (including currents, temperature, salinity, oxygen, and fluorescence) to better understand the health of this marine ecosystem and how it may be changing. Some of the mooring sites have been operating continuously for more than 20 years and provide critical ocean measurements during the ice-covered winter and spring months. 

“What is really remarkable about this survey is that scientists and crew are stepping forward to collect data for fellow scientists who aren’t able to get out this year,” said Phyllis Stabeno, NOAA PMEL oceanographer. “It’s a great example of teamwork at its best.”

In addition to this research cruise, the Norseman II has set out to evaluate ecosystem status and change at the Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) time-series sites, to deploy a mooring and sediment trap in the northern Bering Sea, and to turn around the Chukchi Ecosystem Observatory mooring array in the NE Chukchi Sea. The cruise departed in early October from Nome, Alaska with a limited scientific team participating for the planned water column and sediment sampling on the five DBO transect lines in the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas. Collaboration with AMBON supports eDNA collections as well as cross-data evaluation through the NOAA Arctic Research Program water column and benthic DBO data collections, and the Alaska Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) network for sediment studies. This DBO fall cruise is a consortium of funded projects from NOAA, the North Pacific Research Board (NPRB), National Ocean Partnership Program (NOPP) Arctic Marine Biodiversity Observing Network (AMBON), and Alaska Ocean Observing System (AOOS), focused on benthic sampling as well as water column measurements. 

Read more on NOAA Research and PMEL's website.

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