UT Professor Leads Expedition in Arctic Ecosystem

Jennifer Berke

Three UT science instructors plan to spend the summer avoiding oil spills and direct interferences with the natural ecosystem while studying sediment samples in the Arctic Ocean.

Marine science professor Ken Dunton will lead a group of 10 researchers in a study about the Hanna Shoal ecosystem in the Chukchi Sea off the northwestern coast of Alaska next summer. The study will be conducted over a five-year period, during which Dunton and his team will attempt to understand why the northern Chukchi Sea is such a productive area.

The team will be measuring water current on the seabed, as well as the fluidity and temperature changes in the water and the organisms living on the seabed. Dunton said the group received a $5.6 million grant from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement in order to complete the study.

Dunton said the system supports a high level of productivity based on the large number of organisms.

“Our main objective is to gain a better understanding of the biological, physical and chemical processes at work in the northern Chukchi Sea and the role of those processes in regulating extremely high productivity of that system,” Dunton said. “The great variety of organisms that inhabit the northern Chukchi Sea shows that is a highly productive ecosystem. It is a place of congregation for organisms of all different troughs.”

Dunton also said the group is interested in whether or not climate change affects the ecosystem, as well as diversity in the seabed.

Susan Schonberg, a Marine Science Institute research scientist associate who will accompany Dunton for the study, said she has been working in Alaska for more than 30 years, and the area they will research is especially rich in species diversity.

“From sampling in summers 2009 and 2010, we found an area around Hanna Shoal, located in the northern Chukchi Sea, to be a rich ecosystem,” Schonberg said.

Steve Lanoux, assistant director of the Marine Science Institute in the College of Natural Sciences, will also join the group of researchers. Lanoux said the team will use a variety of methods to collect their information.

He said the group will use baseline data to continuously analyze the section of water they plan to explore and determine what type of outside influences affect the sea.