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The Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) Northern Chukchi Integrated Study (NCIS): Hydrography, Sediment, and Macrofaunal Population Dynamics Project

Analyzing Pacific-Arctic ecosystems in a warming climate

Receding sea ice and increased ocean temperatures are driving shifts in marine ecosystems, especially within the Arctic-Pacific seas. These changes are affecting a variety of ecosystem dynamics, from primary productivity to benthic species density, which could lead to irreversible tipping points for the Arctic system.

The Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) is a change detection array extending from the northern Bering Sea to the Barrow Canyon region, specifically at the junction of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. The array additionally extends eastward into the Canadian Beaufort Sea for a subset of measurements (see below figure). Since 2010 and spanning six countries, the DBO has provided a framework to coordinate sampling and analytical efforts linking biological changes to physical drivers, such as sea ice melt or warming surface temperatures. Datasets collected include key water column parameters (stable isotopes of oxygen in water, phytoplankton species composition), sediment parameters (organic carbon and nitrogen content, grain size, stable isotope C and N content of organic matter, and whole core metabolism measurements), and benthic macrofaunal composition and biomass.

The goals of the project are to determine hydrographic and sediment characteristics that influence macrofaunal communities and ecosystem function through field and synthesis studies. The field cruises also contribute to related investigations of harmful algal blooms in the Arctic. These blooms have trophic impacts that are critical for assessing food security in the region. Exploratory work is also assessing the genomic composition of dominant benthic animals for applications for food tracing, and other food web studies.

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Project Institution: University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES)


Award Period: 01 October 2021 – 30 September 2023

Vessels Information: R/V Sikuliaq & USCGC Healy

Data Access

About The Datasets 

Offshore sampling for harmful algal bloom (HAB) species was conducted in two back-to-back research cruises aboard the R/V Norseman II (July 19, 2022 – August 15,  2022, 28 days and August 17, 2022 to Sept. 6, 2022, 21 days). 

Along with collecting water and sediment samples, an Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB) was configured to collect phytoplankton imagery along the cruise track. Net tows and benthic invertebrate samples were also collected to measure levels of the food web.

By The Numbers

Between both cruises, 120 sediment grabs were collected, 47 net tows were deployed, and water samples were collected across multiple depths at 191 locations. Additional sediment and water samples were collected aboard cruises of opportunity, including the 2022 Bering  Arctic Subarctic Integrated Survey (BASIS, 8/12/22 – 9/11/22) and the Northern Bering Sea  Survey (NBS, 8/27/22 – 9/20/22).  

DBO Data Portal

NCAR DBO Data Portal

Spatial variation in integrated chlorophyll over whole water column during October 2020 RV Norseman II cruise. (Credit: Lee Cooper and Jackie Grebemeier)

Featured Publication

A Chlorophyll Biomass Time-Series for the Distributed Biological Observatory in the Context of Seasonal Sea Ice Declines in the Pacific Arctic Region

September 9, 2022

Lee W. Cooper, Cédric Magen, & Jacqueline Grebmeier

Declines in seasonal sea ice have stimulated projections of how primary production has shifted in response to greater light penetration over a longer open water season. Despite the limitations of remotely sensed observations in often cloudy environments, remote sensing data provide strong indications that surface chlorophyll biomass has increased (since 2000) as sea ice has declined in the Pacific Arctic region. We present here shipboard measurements of chlorophyll-a that have been made annually in July since 2000 from the Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) stations in the Bering Strait region.

Publications & References

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Anderson, D.M., E. Fachon, R.S. Pickart, P. Lin, A.D. Fischer, M.L. Richlen, V. Uva, M. Brosnahan, O.L. McRaven, F. Bahr, K. Lefebvre, J.M. Grebmeier, S. Danielson, Y. Lyu, and Y. Fukai. 2021. Evidence for massive and recurrent toxic blooms of Alexandrium catenella in the Alaskan Arctic. PNAS, Vol. 118, No. xx e2107387118,
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Clement Kinney, J., W. Maslowski, et al., 2022, On the variability of the Bering Sea Cold Pool and implications for the biophysical environment, PLoS ONE.
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Cooper, L.W.; Grebmeier, J.M. A chlorophyll biomass time-series for the Distributed Biological Observatory in the context of seasonal sea ice declines, 2022, Geosciences 2022, 12(8)/307;
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Cooper, L.W., C. Magen, and J.M. Grebmeier. 2022. Changes in the oxygen isotope composition of the Bering Sea contribution to the Arctic Ocean are an independent measure of increasing freshwater fluxes through the Bering Strait. PLoS ONE 17(8): e0273065.
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Danielson, S.L., J.M. Grebmeier, K. Iken, C. Berchok, L. Britt, K.H. Dunton, L. Eisner, E.V. Farley, A. Fujiwara, D.D.W. Hauser, M. Itoh, T. Kikuchi, S. Kotwicki, K.J. Kuletz, C.W. Mordy, S. Nishino, C. Peralta-Ferriz, R.S. Pickart, P.S. Stabeno, K.M. Stafford, A.V. Whiting, and R. Woodgate. 2022. Monitoring Alaskan Arctic shelf ecosystems through collaborative observation networks.
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Frey, K, E., J. Clement Kinney, L. V. Stock, R. Osinski, 2022, Observations of Declining Primary Production in the Western Bering Strait, Oceanography, 35 (2),
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Frey, K.E, L.N.C. Young, J.C. Comiso, L.V. Stock, J.M. Grebmeier, and L.W. Cooper. A comprehensive satellite-based assessment across the Pacific Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory shows widespread late-season sea surface warming and sea ice declines with variable influences on primary productivity. PLOS ONE 18(7): e0287960
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Gaffey, C.B., K.E Frey, L.W. Cooper, and J.M. Grebmeier. 2022. Phytoplankton bloom stage estimated from chlorophyll pigment proportions suggest delayed summer production in low sea ice years in the northern Bering Sea, PLOS ONE, 17(7): e0267586,
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Gall, A. E., Prichard, A. K., Kuletz, K. J., & Danielson, S. L. (2022). Long: Influence of water masses on the summer structure of the seabird community in the northeastern Chukchi Sea. Plos one, 17(4), e0266182.
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Giesbrecht, K. E., Varela, D. E., de Souza, G. F., & Maden, C. (2022). Natural variations in dissolved silicon isotopes across the Arctic Ocean from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 36, e2021GB007107.
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Hubbard KA, Villac MC, Chadwick C, DeSmidt AA, Flewelling L, et al., 2023, Spatiotemporal transitions in Pseudo-nitzschia species assemblages and domoic acid along the Alaska coast. PLoS ONE 18(3): e0282794.
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Koch, C.W., Brown, T.A., Amiraux, R. et al. Year-round utilization of sea ice-associated carbon in Arctic ecosystems. Nat Commun 14, 1964 (2023).
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Moore S.E., J.T. Clarke, S.R. Okkonen, J.M. Grebmeier, C.L. Berchok, and K.M. Stafford. 2022. Changes in gray whale phenology and distribution related to prey variability and ocean biophysics in the northern Bering and eastern Chukchi seas. PLoS ONE 17(4): e0265934.
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DBO Website
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DBO CBL Website
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Pacific Arctic Benthic Species Website (Polish)
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Project Photo Gallery