Category Archives: An indicator of arctic change

Cooper Island Research Part of SENSEI: Sentinels of the Sea Ice

In 2015 Christophe Barbraud of the Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé began assisting us with the analysis of the four-decade demographic database we have obtained from the Cooper Island Black Guillemot colony.  Christophe is a highly respected avian demographer whose study species include the Snow Petrel, an ice-obligate Antarctic seabird, as well as a number of other seabirds.  We were fortunate to have him appreciate the potential and uniqueness of our long-term databases and show an interest in our work.

Our collaboration has led to the Cooper Island Black Guillemot study being part of the recently initiated project Sentinels of the Sea Ice (SENSEI) funded by the BNP Paribas Foundation. Their Climate Initiative program funds work that will improve our understanding of climate change, inform and mobilize citizens and, ultimately,  assist in political decisions and solutions.   While our participation in SENSEI will not assist us with the logistics of our field season and maintaining the long-term database, it will greatly facilitate data analysis and outreach efforts.

Comprised of 13 teams of researchers from six countries, the project will assess recent and ongoing responses of ice-associated seabirds and seals to changes in Arctic and Antarctic sea ice. The  “sentinel species”  being studied other than the Black Guillemot are the Thick-billed Murre, Black-legged Kittiwake and Hooded Seal in the Arctic and  Snow Petrel,  Adélie penguin, Weddell Seal and Elephant Seal in the Antarctic.  The project’s official website has background on the study species, researchers and plans – including development of an educational platform in 2018 that will promote the scientific and conservation aspects of the project and is being developed with Luc Jacquet, who directed March of the Penguins.

BNP Paribas webpage devoted to the project  provides background and why they chose to fund SENSEI as part of their effort to address climate change.  The site includes a video (above ) with a great animated cartoon Black Guillemot –  who seems unaware that some might find him less charismatic than the ever-popular penguin.

Last month I visited Christophe and Yan Ropert-Coudert, the project’s other Principal Investigator, at their research center in Chizé, France to discuss the  role of the Cooper Island research in the project and outline strategies for analyzing our 43 years of data.  Will be posting more about this exciting opportunity as our plans develop.


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Cooper Island Video part of NOAA’s “Ocean Today: Every Full Moon” Outreach

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration interviewed George via Skype and put together a concise educational video on the Cooper Island Black Guillemot research and the record warmth of 2016 as part of their Ocean Today Every Full Moon series, a resource for educators.  

NOAA Ocean Today

The Cooper Island video is at this link : 

Arctic Field Report with George Divoky



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Guillemot Early Breeding Season and New Cooper Island Publications


George Divoky and North Slope Borough Search & Rescue pilot Brian Burke preparing the helicopter for the flight out to Cooper Island June 11.

Fieldwork at the Black Guillemot colony on Cooper Island began in early June, where I began the fifth decade of research on a remote island in a rapidly changing Arctic. Just how rapidly that change is occurring was obvious on the first day in the field, June 11, 2015, when I discovered that egg laying had already begun, with the first egg laid some two weeks earlier than the average date of the first egg over the last four decades. The early laying was a direct result of an extremely early snowmelt in Arctic Alaska that provided Black Guillemots access to nest cavities in late May. A future post will have more details on what the unprecedented timing of this breeding season means for the Cooper Island guillemot colony and in the context of the forty years of observations of breeding chronology that precede it.

I discovered that egg laying had already begun, with the first egg laid some two weeks earlier than the average date of the first egg over the last four decades.

While long-term changes in snowmelt are affecting the start of the guillemots’ breeding season, long-term changes in summer sea ice extent have been changing their breeding success at the end of breeding season.  Two papers examining how the decadal decreases in sea ice extent have affected the guillemots’ ability to feed their nestlings were included in a special issue of the journal Progress in Oceanography containing papers generated as part of the Synthesis of Arctic Research (SOAR).  SOAR is an initiative of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and seeks to have researchers collaborate on multidisciplinary analyses utilizing complementary data sets.

Two Recent Publications on Cooper Island Research are Now Available

Effects of recent decreases in arctic sea ice on an ice-associated marine bird

by G.J. Divoky, P.M. Lukacs, and M.L. Druckenmiller
Download the full PDF article

This paper examines how changes in sea ice extent and sea surface temperature have affected Black Guillemot prey availability during the nesting period – comparing a historic (1975-1984) period with a recent one (2003-2012).  The graphical abstract below shows how much summer ice has changed over the past four decades. That loss and the concurrent increases in sea surface temperature have reduced availability of Arctic Cod, the guillemots preferred prey, with subsequent decreases in nesting growth and survival. This paper is featured on the Nature Climate Change website.

Graphical abstract draft with chicks and fish labeled and arrows

Change in the Beaufort Sea ecosystem: diverging trends in body condition and/or production in five marine vertebrate species

by  L.A. Harwood, T.G Smith, J.C. George, S.J. Sandstrom, W. Walkusz, and G.J. Divoky
Download the full PDF article

This paper is a synthesis of trends in five species in the Beaufort Sea (bowhead whale, Arctic char, ringed seal, beluga and black guillemots).   While the first two species appear to be benefiting from recent decrease in sea ice, the others are seeing declines in condition, growth or reproduction. This article is available online for the the Progress in Oceanography Journal.

Cooper Island location
Study area and locations from the article. Cooper Island is 40 km southeast of Point Barrow.

This summer we hope to post weekly updates from the field on the guillemots’ breeding success, polar bear visits, and the challenges in conducting research on an isolated island. You may want to bookmark this site if you want to follow how the guillemots are doing as our study enters its fifth decade.

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