Upwelling and Ecology in the Beaufort Sea

What Are They Doing?

Photo by Lisa SeffLisa stands on sea ice near Barrow, Alaska. Photo by Lisa Seff. The Beaufort Sea shelf break experiences frequent upwelling of deep, nutrient rich basin water onto the shelf. Such upwelling is not only a short-term source of heat, salt, and nutrients, and a mechanism promoting elevated primary production, but it also transports populations between ocean regions, potentially modifying ecosystem structure and availability of zooplankton and fish prey to upper trophic level consumers. The Beaufort Sea shelf break is a domain of enhanced abundance of upper trophic level animals, presumably in response to elevated availability of their prey.

The team plans to explore and identify the mechanisms linking broad-scale atmospheric forcing, ocean physical response, prey-base condition and distribution, upper trophic level animal aggregations, and climate change along the Beaufort Shelf break. The team's overarching hypothesis is that atmospherically-forced (wind-induced) upwelling along this shelf break leads to enhanced feeding opportunities for intermediate links in the pelagic ecosystem (zooplankton, forage fish) that in turn sustain the exploitation of this environment by animals such as beluga whales, seabirds, and seals. Support for the teacher is provided through the research project funding.

Where Are They?

Courtesy of Carin AshjianMap with Moorings In the Western Beaufort Sea. Courtesy of Carin Ashjian. The field work will take place in the Beaufort Sea aboard the R/V Sikuliaq. The Beaufort Sea is part of the Arctic Ocean. The R/V Sikuliaq, pronounced [see-KOO-lee-auk], is a 261-foot oceanographic research ship capable of bringing scientists to the ice-choked waters of Alaska and the polar regions. The Sikuliaq, one of the most advanced university research vessels in the world, is able to break ice up to 2.5 feet thick.

Sea Ice in the Beaufort Sea. Sea Ice in the Beaufort Sea. Photo by Bill Schmoker (PolarTREC 2010) The Beaufort Sea is a sea of the Arctic Ocean, located north of the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Alaska, west of Canada's Arctic islands. The sea is named after hydrographer Sir Francis Beaufort. The sea, characterized by severe climate, is frozen over most of the year. Historically, only a narrow pass up to 100 km (62 mi) opened in August–September near its shores, but recently the ice-free area in late summer has greatly enlarged.

Expedition Map


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Project Information

23 August 2017 to 20 September 2017
Location: R/V Sikuliaq, Beaufort Sea
Project Funded Title: The Importance of Shelf Break Upwelling to Upper Trophic Level Ecology in the Western Beaufort Sea

Meet the Team

Lisa Seff's picture
Springs School
East Hampton, NY
United States

Lisa has enjoyed teaching at Springs School, located in East Hampton New York, for the past 17 years where she also lives with her husband Gary. Her teaching certifications include biology, earth science, general science and elementary education and she recently earned her National Board Teacher Certification in Early Adolescent Science. In 2012 Lisa became a PolarTREC educator joining Dr. Carin Ashjian, Dr. Robert Campbell and Dr. Steve Okkonen in Barrow Alaska. While there they studied the physical and biological oceanographic conditions of the bowhead whale habitat. This year she's very excited to reconnect the Springs community with the research team on a new and exciting Arctic-based research project in the Beaufort Sea!

Carin Ashjian's picture
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Woods Hole, MA
United States

Dr. Carin Ashjian studies marine biology and ecology with a special interest in the ecology of zooplankton in the Polar Regions, as these ecosystems may be significantly impacted by climate change. Her studies have taken her to both the Arctic and the Antarctic. For eleven years, she worked near Utqiaġvik/Barrow AK using a research vessel to study how and why this region is a feeding hotspot for bowhead whales during their fall migration from Canada to the Bering Sea. She also has worked from much larger research vessels, the USCGC Healy and the R/V SIkuliaq, to study zooplankton in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. Past research has taken her to the Sea of Japan, the Norwegian Sea, Georges Bank, the Gulf Stream, and the California Current. She is a Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where she has worked since 1995.

Steve Okkonen's picture
University of Alaska Fairbanks

Dr. Steve Okkonen has two jobs. For the past 37 years, he has spent the summer months as a commercial salmon fisherman in Cook Inlet, Alaska. Over the last 20 years, he has spent the fall, winter, and spring months as a University of Alaska Fairbanks physical oceanographer studying ocean currents in Alaskan waters. Most recently, he has worked with Dr. Carin Ashjian, Dr. Robert Campbell and whale biologists to find out why the Barrow area is a feeding hotspot for bowhead whales and beluga whales. They are now expanding their study to identify relationships between ocean currents and the migration of bowhead whales.

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Latest Comments

So nice to meet you Lee! Looking forward to learning more about the Arctic jellyfish!-Lisa On 2/12/17 8:15 PM, PolarTREC wrote:
Me too Susan! On 2/11/17 8:56 PM, PolarTREC wrote:
Best wishes to you on your expedition, Lisa! Thank you for all your help. I appreciate it. Lee
I think Bill wins the prize, wow! Hope you had an awesome time at orientation! Good post!