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Many of the species of birds, mammals, and fish that live in Prince William Sound hunt for food far from shore. Gulf Watch Alaska scientists are working hard to understand the productivity of these offshore areas. But it’s more than just learning how much food is available. Understanding what might cause the amount of food to change from year to year can help scientists predict impacts on the animals that depend upon offshore resources of the Gulf of Alaska.

Productivity is influenced by a lot of factors: temperature (both air & water), salinity, tides, currents, rain, wind, the sun, water turbidity and, especially, the amount of plankton. These factors are also called environmental drivers and drivers are key indicators of the overall status of the Gulf of Alaska.

Five Gulf Watch Alaska projects are collecting long-term physical and biological data. Several of the Environmental Drivers projects even pre-date EVOS. Some already have up to 30 years of data! Scientists are using this data to answer the following questions:

• How exactly does the Gulf of Alaska ecosystem function?

• What are the climate trends?

• What is the influence of environmental drivers on the recovery of species impacted by the oil spill?

Click on the images below to learn about the tools that researchers use to sample environmental drivers.

Monitoring marine plankton is central to the Environmental Drivers research. Phytoplankton are the primary producers of the sea. Just like larger plants, they convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into energy. Zooplankton are the primary consumers of the sea. They feed on the phytoplankton. Zooplankton are a critical food source for a lot of marine animals. Watch the video below to learn more about plankton!

VIDEO: Introduction to Plankton

"Plankton" (on Vimeo). Plankton are a multitude of living organisms adrift in the currents. Our food, our fuel, and the air we breathe originate in plankton. From the Plankton Chronicles series by Christian Sardet (CNRS), Sharif Mirshak and Noé Sardet (Parafilms). (2:02)

Video Transcript

Scientists are using Environmental Drivers’ data to find answers to vital questions such as:

• How do springtime conditions in the Gulf of Alaska influence the phytoplankton bloom?

• How does this bloom of phytoplankton affect the numbers and location of zooplankton from year to year?

The Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) is a tool made to sample plankton from ships sailing across the Gulf of Alaska. A CPR is designed to be towed from merchant ships as they follow their scheduled routes. These ships are not research vessels, but they use CPR instruments during their voyages to help researchers gather data. The cargo vessel Horizon Kodiak is one ship that tows a CPR northbound towards Cook Inlet about once a year.

View the video below to discover more about the benefits of using CPR on vessels like the Horizon Kodiak.

VIDEO: Continuous Plankton Recorder

Sonia Batten describes the use of Continuous Plankton Recorders in the Gulf of Alaska. (1:53)

Video Transcript





Who is watching the Gulf?

Meet John
Meet Sonia
Meet Dan
Meet Heather

Study area map

  Biological (adj): pertaining to the science of life or living matter
  CTD (n): acronym for Conductivity, Temperature, Depth. An oceanography instrument that records the salinity (conductivity) & temperature at a prescribed depth of seawater
  Consumer (n): a living thing that eats other living things to survive. It cannot make its own food.
  Buoy (n): a fixed-in-place, floating device that can serve many purposes in the sea. The GAK1 Data Buoy is fitted with many different oceanographic instruments.
  Physical (adj): pertaining to the properties of matter and energy other than those distinctly related to living matter
  Phytoplankton (n): freely floating, often minute plants that drift with water currents
  Plankton (n): organisms that swim weakly, or not at all, and drift with water currents
  Primary producer (n): an organism that makes its own food from light energy or chemical energy
  Salinity (n): the saltiness of a body of water
  Zooplankton (n): freely floating animals that drift with water currents


GAK1 data buoy