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Expedition: Bering Sea

Scientists study zooplankton for global warming secrets

By Aaron Kanzer | April 8 , 2009
Copepods (zooplankton), like the one above, are a critical link in the Arctic food web. (Photo by Carin Ashjian, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Copepods (zooplankton), like the one above, are a critical link in the Arctic food web. (Photo by Carin Ashjian, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

For most of us, an ideal trip consists of a day on a warm beach. For scientist Carin Ashjian, it’s a venture to the bitter cold of the Bering Sea.

The scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, joined 41 partner scientists and the U.S. Coast Guard on an Arctic expedition in early April. The set out to learn more about the ecosystems of the Bering Sea Area, specifically southwest of the Alaskan mainland, near the Aleution Islands.

The group of scientists embarked on their chilly trek from the port of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on the U.S. Coast Guard ice breaker, the USCGC Healy. Measuring a colossal 420 ft. long, the ship is built to navigate icy waters during a spring thaw. It is used to pick up samples of ice, microorganisms, and any other useful data for scientific study.

Ashjian is a specialist in zooplankton, tiny free-floating organisms in the ocean. She is studying the different ecosystems and connections of living organisms in the Bering Sea. This is her second expedition to the area.

“Zooplankton and other organisms are important links between autotrophs (producers of food) and heterotrophs (consumers of food),” Ashjian said. “Species like these are essential to the survival of the Bering Sea ecosystems.” Zooplankton are consumers, while phytoplankton, another common micro organism in the ocean, are producers.

Ashjian wants to also explore life under the ice, including ice algae and crustaceans. She will also explore the differences in the environments that exist at varying temperatures related to the depth of the sea. While navigating on top of an ocean shelf, the depth of the waters can differ from 30 to 3,000 meters, she said. Ashjian also expressed a concern for the ongoing effects of global warming on the Bering sea life.

“We already see declines in the amount of ice in the North,” she told Scholastic News. “But so far animals have been able to adapt enough to survive.”

During the first week of May, Ashjian will return home, armed with new data to study. She then hopes to educate the public with talks, published writings on her findings, and a sufficient source of new predictions for the years to come. Preservation of areas like Bering Sea is important for the future of the planet, she said. And anyone can help preserve the Earth.

“Small things like using fluorescent light bulbs and turning off lights can make a big difference,” Ashjian said when asked how one person can make a difference in helping conserve the planet’s resources.

To follow the scientists on this expedition, check out their web page on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Web site. http://polardiscovery.whoi.edu/expedition5/index.html

More Information:
Check out this special report of Scholastic’s Science World Editor Patty Janes’s expedition on the USCG Healy.

Starting out from 14 different scientific institutions across the USA, including Woods Hole, the scientific team will fly to Dutch Harbor to board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, and then zig zag through the Bering Sea. (Illustration by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

 

About the Author

Aaron Kanzer is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

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