Category Archives: Outreach

2019 Seattle Update – March 26

Tuesday March 26 at Seattle’s Swedish Club

Reception at 6 pm with presentation at 7 pm

Reception at 6 pm with talk at 7 pm

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.

As global warming continues, one of the most important things individuals can do to fight climate change is talk about it. Please join us at the Swedish Club for an evening to learn, talk and think about climate change and how it is affecting both the Arctic and the Pacific Northwest.

A short interview with George Divoky, The study of one bird, 43 years in the making, on Seattle NPR station, KNKX, in 2017 is available here.

Join us on Tuesday March 26th at Seattle’s Swedish Club to hear about our 2018 field season on

2018 Arctic Report Card and AGU Annual Meeting

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. 

The reports provide a concise annual summary of major physical and biological changes documented in the Arctic over the past year and also serve to focus the media and public on the larger issue of global warming.  We attended the meeting to report on our 2018 findings (see below) and our recent and long-term observations from the  Cooper Island Black Guillemot colony were of interest to a number of journalists as examples of a biological response to the melting Arctic.  The  Associated Press mentioned our observations in their story about the report card and Inside Science has a good piece with the details of the depressing 2018 field field season

Due to the release of the Report Card and thanks to a recent article in Politico by Eric Scigliano on his trip with me to Utqiagvik, I was asked to be on the national NPR radio show “On Point” to discuss the “rapid unraveling of the Arctic”. Karen Frey, a sea ice expert from Clark University and one of the authors of this year’s Arctic Report Card, joined me to be interviewed by Meghna Chakrabarti. The interview, including calls from listeners, can be accessed by clicking on the image below.

NPR program, On Point, December 13 with George Divoky and Karen Frey being interviewed by Meghna Chakrabarti.

Last winter’s historically low ice extent in the Bering Sea was one of the central points of the Arctic Report Card and also the subject of an AGU special session entitled “Unprecedented Bering Sea Ice Extent and Impacts to Marine Ecosystems and Western Alaskan Communities“.

We have become increasingly concerned about Bering Sea ice extent in the winter as our deployment of geolocation data loggers has shown that the birds breeding on Cooper Island typically spend over six months of the nonbreeding period utilizing the margins of the pack ice south of the Bering Strait.

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.   

Locations (dots) of Black Guillemots in late April 2012 and 2018 with sea ice concentration. Polygons depict 90% (thin) and 50% (thick) utilization distributions.

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.  

Public Radio and Cooper Island – Some history and a recent interview

Public radio plays a major role in my three-months on  Cooper Island each summer as I observe the Black Guillemots, the melting sea ice and the displaced polar bears.  To the extent that there is a “field camp culture”  on Cooper Island, listening to the radio is a major part of that culture.  Whenever I am in camp, and not out in the colony censusing guillemot adults or weighing nestlings, I almost always have the radio on and tuned to the only local radio station for hundreds of miles, KBRW, broadcasting from the village of  Utgiavik (Barrow), 25 miles away.  The information, entertainment and companionship the radio provides is most important during the extended periods (up to six weeks) when I am the only person on the island.  While I may not see another human for weeks on end, I am able to hear them on a daily basis.

Earl Finkler had a morning show on KBRW for decades, and in the early 1980s I stopped by the station after leaving the field to tell him how much I enjoyed his playing “It’s a Beautiful Morning”, by the Young Rascals,  on bright sunny mornings – and how it always lifted my mood.    For many years after that Earl would give a shout out to “all the listeners” on Cooper Island before playing that song. When videographer/photographer Art Howard spent a few weeks on the island in 2007, as part of the International Polar Year, he saw firsthand my personal relationship with KBRW radio.  As a result, his video on the Cooper Island study,  starts with Earl in the KBRW studios playing “It’s a Beautiful Morning”. 

As Hannah Waters recently pointed out in her article for Audubon, “Every day goes about the same on Cooper Island” and familiar voices on favorite radio shows come as welcome and important breaks in the fieldwork.  There are two reasons I might find myself running back to the cabin from the guillemot colony – either a polar bear has arrived on the north beach or one of my favorite radio shows is about to come on the air.   The duration of my time on Cooper, and the vagaries of public radio programming, has meant that voices and programs that were once major parts of Cooper Island life no longer can keep me company, such as Steve Heimel on Talk of Alaska and  Neal Conan on Talk of the Nation – although I now do have Neal’s podcasts of Truth, Politics and Power brought out to me by visitors and get to see Steve in Anchorage before and after the field season.  While Earl Finkler has left Utqiagvik, his replacement, Bob Thomas, has a weekend show with hours of well curated vintage and oldies tunes that will be going through my head the rest of the week.

One of the other voices I used to hear on KBRW was that of Gabriel Spitzer,  who was on Alaska Public Radio when he lived in Anchorage.   Now, like me, he resides in Seattle where he is at KNKX and the host of Sound Effect, a weekly tour of ideas, inspired by Puget Sound and its residents, with a different theme being explored each week. They recently invited me to be part of a show called “Pet Projects” to talk about my 43 years on Cooper.  The 10-minute segment on Cooper Island gave me a chance to share information about my climate change findings but also covered a  range of other topics that make up the Cooper Island experience,  including  how monitoring the guillemots’ social lives helps me get through periods when I don’t have one.

If you want to hear more about life on Cooper Island, Arctic climate change and the eventful 2017 field season, please come to our annual Seattle event on the evening of Tuesday March 20th at the Swedish Club.

I also will be giving a presentation two days later at the monthly meeting of Eastside Audubon on Thursday March 22nd in Kirkland.