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Seabird Community in the Northeastern Chukchi Sea

Adrian Gall and Alex Prichard, with invaluable help from ABR's GIS lead Dorte Dissing, collaborated with Kathy Kuletz of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Seth Danielson of the University of Alaska Fairbanks to publish a paper exploring the influence of water masses on the summer structure of the seabird communities in the northeastern Chukchi Sea. They used USFWS and ABR data collected during a variety of research cruises in the northeastern Chukchi Sea and contributed to the Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) to explore the influence of the seasonal change in water masses on the development of the seabird community during the summer. They found that seabirds generally were more abundant in waters dominated by moderate-salinity Bering Sea water than they were in nearshore low-salinity Alaska coastal water. This analysis offers insights into how seabird populations may be responding to warming conditions in the Arctic.

ABR Northern Fulmar Bering

From the paper:

Seabird distribution across a seascape can reflect oceanographic conditions at lower trophic levels, serving as visible indicators of marine ecosystems that are otherwise obscured under water. The northeastern Chukchi Sea is being altered by fundamental changes in the regional climate that are restructuring the marine food web by creating an environment that is warmer, fresher, and more ice-free than in the previous three decades. The rate of warming has been accelerating in recent years and decades. These changes are affecting processes that influence the distribution, life history, and interactions of biological communities. Declining seasonal ice cover also is increasing access to the Chukchi Sea, providing new opportunities for human activities such as recreational boating, commercial shipping and fishing, and oil and gas exploration. The seabird community offers benchmarks for evaluating both the short-term effects of catastrophic events such as oil spills and the long-term responses to climate change.

ABR Tern

The northeastern Chukchi Sea is being altered by fundamental changes in the regional climate...

[The team] showed that the distribution of seabirds throughout the northeastern Chukchi Sea reflects the heterogeneity of oceanic habitats over the shallow shelf. Auklets, murres, and northern fulmars generally were more abundant in offshore areas of the Chukchi Sea dominated by moderate-salinity Bering Sea Water than nearshore in low-salinity Alaska Coastal Water...Effective marine conservation relies on the

predictability of locating resources that require protection. One of the essential assumptions of the DBO is that the sites selected for monitoring are in areas of high biomass, high species biodiversity, representative of the Pacific Arctic ecosystem, and will remain so over time. This study focused on [sites] where hotspots of seabird aggregation have been identified in nearshore waters near the village of Wainwright, in an offshore area on the southern flank of Hanna Shoal, and at the mouth of Barrow Canyon. These hotspots were also apparent in [the] analysis in early summer. [The] study emphasizes the importance of collecting data on seabird occurrence concurrently with oceanographic data on water column properties, currents, and perhaps most importantly, thermohaline fronts that affect prey availability. Doing so will improve our ability to predict possible future shifts in the distribution and abundance of seabirds as the Arctic warms. [The results of the analysis] can inform efforts to develop ecosystem models that incorporate oceanographic conditions, nutrients, prey species, and top predators to predict ongoing consequences of climate change.


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