See the Woods Hole Bering Sea Ecosystem Expedition online

Polar Discovery Online Expedition brings Arctic Experience to Virtual Explorers
Woods Hole Bering Sea Ecosystem Expedition: April 4 - May 11


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

Beginning April 4, students, teachers, museum visitors, and virtualexplorers can join a multi-institutional team of researchers led byCarin Ashjian of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) on a38-day expedition in the Arctic’s Bering Sea.

Through interactive sessions at museums and daily dispatches, videosand photo essays on the Polar Discovery Web site — and now using Twitter — visitors can follow scientists aboard the U.S. Coast Guard CutterHealy as they learn more about how the changing climate may affect theregion’s enormously productive and vital ecosystem.

Each year, U.S. and Russian fishing fleets pull hundreds of millions ofpounds of fish and crab from the Bering Sea. All that productivity isdue to a particular combination of melting sea ice and currents, whichtransport nutrients that fertilize blooms of algae. Algae are food fortiny zooplankton, which are eaten by larger animals, and so on throughthe Arctic food web. Millions of seabirds breed in the region everysummer, and whales travel from far away to feed in the abundant watersof the Bering Sea.


Copepods, like the one above, are a critical linkin the Arctic food web. (Photo by Carin Ashjian, Woods HoleOceanographic Institution)

“To understand if the Bering Sea is going to continue to be a wonderfulplace for whales to live and feed, we have to try and understand how itworks and then to try to predict how the changes in sea ice or watertemperatures might impact it,” said Ashjian, a biologist at WHOI andchief scientist on the expedition.

Researchers will be looking at many parts of the ecosystem — fish,seabirds, marine mammals and even humans — to help answer criticalquestions about how the changing climate may affect the delicatelybalanced ecosystem in this part of the world.

The team will also conduct live satellite phone conversations from theship to visitors at partner museums across the United States. Throughthese “Live from the Poles” events, students and other visitors willhave the opportunity to interact directly with researchers while theyare working in the field. A list of partner museums and a schedule of“Live from the Poles” events can be found on the Polar Discovery website.

Polar Discovery is funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

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