7 June, 1999

TEA 1999

Prince William Sound Science Center


JUNE 7, 1999

Greetings from Cordova on a bright sunny morning, with temperatures in the low 60's and an expected high of 72 degrees, slight wind, and no sign of rain for the next few days.

I drove down to the center at about 8.15 am to meet with Nancy Bird, the Director of the Center. Here again I received a very warm and cordial welcome. Previous to our meeting, Nancy and I communicated via email, and literature she sent me on the center and the work that goes on there. Nancy then introduced me to staff members who were present at the time, and proceeded to share with me the plan for the day and week. Even though there were a few things outlined for me, it was necessary for me to be flexible since plans can change due to weather and other on the spur of the moment situations. As the other science researchers and center personnel came in, I was introduced accordingly.

Nancy gave me a run down on the research currently undertaken by the Scientists at the center, and their sponsoring agencies, hence the focus of the study. All of the studies were associated with the fishing industry of the Prince William Sound Area. I spoke extensively with each of the researchers, Jay Kirsh and Shari Vaughn who both use the Applied Technology of the Acoustic Doplar Current Profiler at varying depths to detect fish population and plankton population sizes respectively, and Tom Kline who conducts isotope analysis on fish tissues for levels of 14N, and 13C signatures. This data is used for the assessment of transfer of energy into food webs via forage fish and to determine the realized trophic levels of potential forage and predator nekton species using arctic copepod as a reference. Tom's hypothesis is based on the predictable nature of isotopes. Natural stable isotope ratio analysis of 13C/12C and 15N/14N of fish, their prey, and their predators serve as effective tracers of energy supply thus providing insight into habitat usage, and assisting in quantifying amounts of carbon, and by extension, energy derived from various areas of production. Tom obtains his samples of fish tissue from the nearby fisheries to conduct his studies. These involve isolating the otoliths (ear bones) to determine the age of the fish from its annual rings, and freeze drying and grinding the muscle tissue to analyze it for nitrogen and carbon isotopes.

All of the data for Shari's and Jay's study are collected at specific times of the year, and at specific locations with the intent of determining the physical processes that affect the production of fish (target populations of fish species). These processes are seasonal, inter annual surface stratification of frontal formation, upper layer circulation, and exchange between PWS near shore regions with the Gulf of Alaska. The data is then used for predictions on the size of the run at specific location (distribution and abundance of fish), the availability of plankton food for the fish population at the various depths, and the water parameters (DO, temperature, salinity, current velocities, glacial runoff, seasonal winds, storm events) that would support and/or adversely affect the aquatic food chain and the fish themselves. The interpretations of this data is then used by Department of Fish and Wild Life to stipulate the amount of fish that can be harvested in the given season, and the number of permits that could be issued and/or renewed. The explanation of each of these procedures, though intricate and highly technical, was very interesting and informative. The color coded (spectrophotometry) poster illustrations of the procedures and the findings were well documented and justifiable.

On Monday afternoon, I attended a field trip with a day camp to study a nearby intertidal zone of Orca Bay. It was led by a very seasoned Environmental Science teacher in the community named Belle Mickelson, a dynamic and charismatic individual. The camp was for a group of 8, 6-8 year olds. Everyone in the group was bubbling with energy and eager to get to the spot where the study was to be conducted. Upon arrival, we had lunch, then proceeded to find limpets (a small snail that appeared like a brown cap) on the rocks, and get ready for a limpet race. The kids did an excellent job finding them. Using a chalk and cup, they drew a circle around the limpet, with the limpet in the center of the circle. The rock was then overturned to its original position to be checked on our way out. Next stop was to use a stick to measure the water's edge for tidal movement. Following that we collected samples of living, moving organisms from among the thickly water logged sea weeds and kelp and placed them in three separate containers of water in preparation for the three ring circus. The idea was for the campers to see how many specimens they can collect and which ones were more active. The students had a great time collecting a variety of specimens and did so with great enthusiasm. After spending a period of identifying the species (by common name), a game of charades was played to mimic any of the animals that were caught, or other animals that exist in the waters of Orca Bay. Following that session, campers fed the shore birds with bits of bread, collected shells, checked their limpets to see which one had won the race, and to reflect on their day's highlight. This was a fun filled learning experience for all. My highlight was to see and collect ribbon worms for the first time.

We returned to the park where the campers were to be picked up by their parents. Before letting them go, Belle played her violin and entertained her audience, some of whom decided to dance, clap hands and conduct music. What a happy bunch of people!

I returned to the center, where I met with Nancy again, to discuss possible activities for the week. She also provided me with curricular material K-12 on the Oil Spill, and the associated video. The day ended with an invitation from Nancy to join her and some friends for a picnic out on the Alaganik Slough, a trail, picnic site, scenic look out on the Copper River Delta, and an area teaming with wildlife such as geese, a variety of birds, and moose. Not to mention the abundance of mosquitoes, and other wetland insects. The food was delicious.....salmon casserole, asparagus and broccoli, and the time shared was enjoyable. On the way back from the picnic, Nancy willingly stopped for me to take pictures of the wildflowers in bloom and various features of the delta that have been sculptured by the infamous earthquake of 1964, and other ongoing geographical forces. She also explained about the wildlife that occupy he delta, the introduction of the moose which tuns out to be the one that produces the highest quality of meat in the area. She also told me about the subspecies of Canada geese (which I saw) that now live and breed in the delta, and the trumpeter swans which too we were able to see. There were also a couple of huge beaver lodges and dams in some of the streams off the main road. As you can see it was a full day. Simply put, THIS WAS A GREAT DAY.

Shari Vaughn lowering a device loaded with acoustic transmitters and transducers.

Three dimensional current flow patterns in Prince William Sound, measured by an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler. This view is looking north into the Sound from Hinchinbrook Entrance. (Photos from the Prince William Sound Oil Spill Recovery Institute brochure).

Nancy Bird, Vice President of the Prince William Sound Science Center, explains the physiography of the Copper River Delta.

Shari Vaughn, physical oceanographer with the Prince William Sound Science Center.

Tom Kline explains his work with stable isotope analysis as a tool for determining foraging habits of fish.

Jay Kirsch, electrical engineer and Project Leader of the Sound Ecosystem Assessment (SEA) project.

The Prince William Sound Science Center in Cordova, Alaska.

Here I am working with some of the students in the environmental science camp.

Belle Mickelson instructs campers about the intertidal zone.

Here I am working with some of the students in the environmental science camp.

The Prince William Sound Science Center.

Belle Mickelson instructs campers about the intertidal zone.

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