The Cooper Island Black Guillemot colony was first recognized as a monitor of a warming climate in 2002, the 23rd year of the study. Decreasing sea ice in a rapidly melting Arctic continues to diminish its population and breeding success. Now in its 44th year, and with evidence of global climate change increasingly evident, our research is documenting this Arctic seabird’s struggle to survive.
Join us to hear about the current status of this unique Arctic seabird – our canary in the coal mine. Learn what the four decades of research on Cooper Island can teach us about how a warming Arctic impacts life everywhere, including the Pacific Northwest.
Doors open at 6 pm for a reception upstairs at the Swedish Club (just west of and overlooking Lake Union) with wine, beer and light fare with the presentation at 7 p.m.
For 13 years NOAA has released an annual “Arctic Report Card“. That NOAA feels the need to issue a report on the an annual basis reflects the rapid pace of change occurring in the region. As in past years the 2018 Arctic Report Card was released at the Annual Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), this year occurring on 9-14 December in Washington D.C.
Given the anomalous ice conditions in the Bering Sea in the winter of 2017-18, we were very anxious to retrieve the geolocation loggers this past June to see how the birds’ movements and distribution had been disrupted. Preliminary analysis, presented as part of a poster at the AGU meeting, found a dramatic major shift in the guillemots’ distribution for the entire nonbreeding season, with a striking 1000 km (over 600 miles) northward displacement in April, when birds occupied the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Basin rather than the southern Bering Sea shelf in the Pacific.
Overwinter survival and condition of returning birds was also impacted by the anomalous conditions, with the annual survival of breeders the lowest on record (approximately 70 percent compared to the long-term average of 88 percent) and the first instance of large-scale nonbreeding (pairs occupying a nest but not laying eggs) and eggs being abandoned without being incubated. The number of breeding pairs was the lowest number since the late 1970s and, as we told Seth Borenstein of Associated Press, walking around the colony in 2018 felt like walking through a ghost town.
For the past four decades, my field seasons on Cooper Island studying Black Guillemots have always begun with high spirits and a feeling of optimism. Experiencing the 24 hours of daylight in early June while documenting the return of individual birds to the island and their nest sites is always uplifting – some of these seabirds have been returning to Cooper Island for decades. Then, the days begin to shorten as nighttime returns to the Arctic. After monitoring the colony’s breeding activity for over three months, the end of the field season in late August lacks the intensity of the start of the season, but until recently, provided the gratification of having a large number of nestlings depart the island – with the hope many will return in the coming years.