Category Archives: An indicator of arctic change

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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Work Worth Doing: Reflecting on 44 years in the Field

The Cooper Island Black Guillemot study was recently mentioned in an Associated Press story by Seth Borenstein about researchers who “accidentally” began studying climate change. A number of scientists measuring a biological phenomenon have encountered unanticipated effects from climate change and understood those effects were more important, both biologically and politically, than what originally motivated them to initiate their research. The 44-year Cooper Island study has undergone a number of changes before its current focus on assessing the decadal effects of Arctic warming on seabirds.

When I first landed on Cooper Island in 1975, I had no intention of studying climate change or global warming. Read more of George’s reflection on his forty four years of study on Cooper Island at Proteus.

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