Category Archives: An indicator of arctic change

Long-term Data Collection Serves Many: Cooper Island study aids graduate students studying climate change

Graduate student Drew Sauve recently returned from Cooper Island. He describes his collaboration with George in this guest post.

The Black Guillemots on Cooper Island are one of many wild populations that are responding to climate change by changing when they lay their eggs. These Arctic seabirds want to lay their eggs as soon as the winter snow melts and spring begins, because their breeding season—from first access to a nest cavity to departure of chicks—is 80 days, an exceptionally long breeding period for a bird. Parent guillemots have to have their young ready to fly off to sea before fall snow accumulation begins to block entrances to nest cavities. In recent years, with sea ice retreating offshore in late summer, early breeding has the benefit of being able to provision young when the preferred prey of Arctic Cod is still readily available.

While there are decades of data that show spring snowmelt is occurring earlier in northern Alaska and, allowing guillemots to lay their eggs earlier, my research is focused on whether Black Guillemots are evolving to lay their eggs earlier.

Read the full post at Proteus.

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Arctic Worries: Climate change impacts communities and wildlife in the Arctic

Science writer Jenny Woodman of Proteus writes about Cooper Island research and the current field season.

George Divoky frets–with good reason. In 2016, CNN Correspondent John D. Sutter called him the man who is watching the world melt. The description is as distressing as it is apt.

George sends us regular dispatches from a small field camp on Cooper Island, about 25 miles east of Utqiaġvik, where he has studied a colony of nesting Mandt’s Black Guillemots for the last 44 years. Since his work began in 1975, the research has morphed into one of the longest-running studies of seabirds, sea ice, and climate change.

Read the full post and latest update on the 2018 field season here.

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Seabirds and Sea Ice

Over most of its range the Black Guillemot is a nearshore seabird, occupying coastal waters during both the breeding and nonbreeding seasons, as do other members of the genus Cepphus. Pelagic or open ocean waters can offer abundant prey resources, but these options are often distant, patchy and unpredictable.

The nearshore typically offers seabirds a smaller but more reliable source prey base consisting of forage fish and benthic fauna from the ocean floor such as crustaceans or mussels.

The Arctic Ocean has extensive sea ice cover in the nearshore for the majority of the year; this presents a number of challenges to a nearshore species. Our work on the Cooper Island Black Guillemots has revealed a number of ways in which the species has met these challenges.

The current view from my cabin window illustrates one of the major problems guillemots face in the Arctic. Sea ice extends from the north beach of the island to the horizon and covers Elson Lagoon to the south. The only water available to the guillemots is a brackish pond in the center of the colony that provides no prey but is deep enough to provide sanctuary if the guillemots need to dive when pursued by an owl or falcon — regular visitors to the island.

Read George’s latest field report at Proteus.

MODIS image from July 9; snow and ice have blue/cyan color, while clouds will be lighter gray/white. Image Credit: David Douglass/USGS

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