Environmental Variability, Bowhead Whale Distributions, and Iņupiat Subsistence Whaling Whaling Linkages and Resilience of an Alaskan Coastal System
Lead PI: Carin Ashjian, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Photo Credit: Misty Nikula Ohlsen
The coupling between atmosphere, sea ice, ocean, bowhead whales, and subsistence whaling by the Native human populations is fundamental to the physical-biological-human systems of the Northern Alaska Coast. Whale migration routes and habitat use are determined by zooplankton aggregations, which are driven by oceanographic conditions, which depend on the climatic regime. Successful hunting depends on interactions between environmental and societal factors that vary each year and are driven by forces originating outside the system. This complex suite of environment-whale-human factors comprises a system that is vulnerable both to global climate and human generated change. This project seeks to identify and understand the complex linkages, mechanisms, and interactions within and between the atmosphere, ocean, and human components forming a complex natural system that may be critically affected by environmental variability.
The work is highly interdisciplinary and focuses on the linked ocean-human systems of coastal Alaska, concentrating specifically near Barrow, Alaska. Four distinct yet highly interrelated approaches to understanding the system are used: 1) Biological and physical ocean modeling to identify mechanisms of frontal and eddy formation and plankton aggregation, to describe the effects of environmental forcing from outside on the local ocean, and to understand longer term, past and future variability in outside forcing on whaling success, 2) High resolution field sampling to demonstrate presence of physical features and associated biological concentrations and to validate modeling, 3) Assessment of the resilience and vulnerability of the subsistence hunting economy and culture in Barrow, and 4) Retrospective analysis synthesizing modeled ocean and climate conditions with available information on whale location, feeding, and harvest success to asses the resilience and vulnerability of the whale-ocean-human system to environmental change.