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Benthic Biology in Bering Sea: Canadian Icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier

June 29 – July 21, 2006 | Bering Sea


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Betty Carvellas Teacher
Betty Carvellas
Essex High School
Essex Junction, Vermont
Jackie Grebmeier
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee

High school science teacher Betty Carvellas traveled to the Bering and Chukchi Seas aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Service icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier to participate in a continuing multi-national collaboration that is studying the impacts of climate variability on the Western Arctic circulation and associated ecosystems. Betty joined researcher Jackie Grebmeier on this “time-series” study that has a goal of better understanding the ecological forces at work in the water column and the sediments. The sediments in the Bering and Chukchi Seas are of great specific ecological importance because this system is home to top benthic (seafloor)-feeding predators such as the spectacled eider (a threatened population of diving sea ducks), walruses and gray whales, which are responding to a changing marine environment.  A good recent summary of the results of this continuing project is included in a paper published in Science in March 2006.  As a public service, Science is making this paper available without charge through a special link at this webpage: http://arctic.bio.utk.edu/#AEO

Data collections in the Bering and Chukchi Seas on this cruise will include hydrographic sampling for plant chlorophyll, nutrients and water mass tracers, as well as studies of benthic organisms that live on the bottom of the sea and the characteristics of their environment. The core focus of Grebmeier’s research is on time-series measurements of water and sediment parameters in the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas, supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Other scientists from the US, Canada and Japan onboard the ship will collect phytoplankton and zooplankton samples, use a towed bio-acoustic package to study zooplankton, continuously measure seawater temperature and salinity near the surface, and recover and re-deploy several mooring (automated oceanographic sampling systems) arrays that have been making automated measurements in the ocean over the past year at locations in the Bering and Chukchi Seas as part of the Joint Western Arctic Climate Study (JWACS) that is supported by the US, Canadian and Japanese governments.

Betty Carvellas teaches biology and is serving as co-chair of the science department at Essex High School in Essex Junction, Vermont. One of Betty’s goals is to bring science alive for her students and to relate classroom work to real world issues. “It's a thrill to watch students get excited about science when they see its relevance to their everyday lives and they begin to appreciate the complexities of scientific research and interpretation of evidence.” Another goal of Betty’s is for all of her students to understand that science is not just for an elite few. Her hope is that students will appreciate the nature of science and the wonder of the natural world around them.

Jackie Grebmeier is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Tennessee. Over the last 20 years, her field research program in both the Arctic and Antarctic has focused on such topics as understanding biological productivity in arctic waters and sediments and documenting longer-term trends in ecosystem health of arctic continental shelves, including studying the importance of bottom dwelling organisms to higher levels of the arctic food web, such as walrus, gray whale, and diving sea ducks.

For more information on Jackie Grebmeier and her colleagues Arctic research projects, please go to: http://arctic.bio.utk.edu and link to “Arctic Environmental Observatory” and/or “North Bering Sea”. The CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier passes through the Bering Strait region every year in July while on a navigational aids mission in the Canadian Arctic from its base in Victoria, British Columbia. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian government ministry that operates the Sir Wilfrid Laurier (named for the first French Canadian prime minister of Canada) has been regularly making the ship available to Canadian and international scientists in conjunction with researchers from the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, B.C. who help coordinate the overall international effort.

For more information about the ship itself, please consult the website here.

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