By Laine Welch
Ocean chemists are calling it “revolutionary technology” as unmanned gliders track how melting glaciers may be intensifying corrosive waters in Prince William Sound.
“It’s been hugely successful. We’ve flown these things all over inside and outside of Prince William Sound,” said Jeremy Mathis, director of the Ocean Environment Research Division at the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab in Seattle. Mathis is also an affiliate faculty member at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks and oversees studies at Newport, Ore.
Mathis explained that, in different regions of the world, natural processes (like glacial melt) are worsening the effects of ocean acidification so that a region like Prince William Sound may already be preconditioned.
Ocean acidification is a global phenomenon driven by increased levels of human-produced carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. It is changing the chemistry of the entire ocean at a slow, methodical pace.
Since May, two Carbon Wave Gliders resembling yellow surfboards have been propelled around the Sound by wave motions to test surface water conditions. The gliders are controlled remotely via iPad from a Seattle lab.
Another so-called Slocum Glider, also controlled remotely, resembles a yellow torpedo and dives down to 600 feet. Prior to using gliders, researchers were limited to contracting with boats and crews and taking about four water samples each year.
“This is a revolution,” Mathis added. “Ship time is so expensive, that’s all we could afford to do.”
Mathis said the gliders are a fraction of the cost, and can be left out for five months.
“It will change the way we collect data; the way we can understand ecosystem environmental processes,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to understand what is going on with fisheries and biology, and communicate that to fishing communities and stakeholders in Alaska.”
Mathis said data from the gliders is showing preliminary results, and will soon be deployed throughout the Gulf, Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean.
Creepy soundtracks of noises made by predators had mud crabs running for shelter. It proved, for the first time, that the animals can hear. Marine acoustic experts at Boston’s Northeastern University made the discovery in lab tests on 200 mud crabs during a 2-year study. When scientists played certain noises, the crabs wouldn’t venture out to eat juicy clams placed in their tanks. Their skittishness reportedly lasted for several hours.
Scientists said crabs hear through a small sac at the base of their antennae called a statocyst. The study found it contains thousands of sensory hairs that are important for the animal’s balance, as well as its response to sounds.
“I’m not aware of any studies that have gone into that level of detail on the sensory organs or abilities of any of the commercial crab species in Alaska,” said Bob Foy, director of NOAA Fisheries top crab lab at Kodiak. “I would not be surprised if it was the same. Sound is just a pressure wave.”
According to Foy, scientists are able to measure the stress an animal is undergoing while reacting to a predator — or another organism. Other studies showed ship sounds affected foraging behavior of shore crabs.
Foy also said scientists are also looking at the impacts of sonar from oil drilling and ship noises, as well as other kinds of sensory environmental impacts.”
Various business and landing taxes on fish usually equal 3 to 5 percent of dockside values, and are shared 50/50 between state coffers and local areas where the fish is delivered.
Andy Wink, a seafood economist with the McDowell Group in Juneau, noted that, with commercial catches of 5 to 6 billion pounds per year, even adding or losing one penny per pound makes a difference of nearly a $1 million for both state and local governments.
The industry also pays taxes and fees to cover management, marketing, hatcheries and other costs. Wink said Alaska’s seafood industry accounts for the vast majority of hatchery funding, allowing both sport and commercial fishermen the benefit of more salmon.
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