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Alaska Science Center Previous Seminars

The USGS Alaska Science Center has a monthly seminar series that runs from October through May.  This series highlights the multiple research programs that are taking place across all disciplines at the center.

Listed below are previous seminars given.

Return to Media/Outreach >> Seminar Series


November 2023 - April 2024 series


Assessing the Responses of Caribou to Changing Habitat Conditions in the Arctic

Caribou roaming the Arctic Coastal Plain

Date: April 25, 2024 
Time: 11:00 a.m. (AK Standard Time)
Presenter: Heather Johnson, Research Wildlife Biologist
Abstract: Recent declines in several barren-ground caribou herds across North America have coincided with the ‘greening of the Arctic’, raising concerns about the influence of changing summer habitat conditions on caribou populations. The short Arctic summer provides caribou with important forage but is also the time they are exposed to intense harassment by insects, factors which are both being altered by longer, warmer growing seasons. Additionally, the summer ranges of barren-ground caribou in Alaska often overlap areas targeted for energy development, compounding concerns about the resilience of caribou to changing conditions. This talk will highlight recent research by USGS and our partners to better understand the influence of summer habitat and human development on caribou behavior and demography in the Alaskan Arctic, with implications for how populations may be impacted in the future.


Investigating Alaska’s Critical Minerals for a Carbon-neutral Future

Scenic view of the Seward Peninsula, Alaska. Photo taken from a ridge above Graphite Creek, looking out to body of water.

Date: March 26, 2024 
Time: 10:00 a.m. (AK Standard Time)
Presenter: Douglas Kreiner, Research Economic Geologist
Abstract: Mineral resources are necessary for society, particularly as we transition towards a low-carbon future. Technology required for this transition relies on significantly larger quantities, and more diverse mineral commodities than traditional energy and transportation needs. Alaska produces, and has the potential to produce, critical minerals from a variety of mineral deposit types. Recent and ongoing Mineral Resource Program research is working to better characterize how, where, and why critical minerals occur within the mineral-rich state of Alaska.



Tsunamis of the 1964 Great Alaska earthquake

photo of dead trees along a coastline with water and background mountains

Date: March 20, 2024
Time: 1:00 p.m. (AK Standard Time)
Presenter: Dr. Elena Suleimani, Alaska Earthquake Center
Abstract: The 1964 Great Alaska earthquake generated the most destructive historic tsunami in Alaska, which also impacted the west coast of the United States and Canada. The impact of coseismic crustal deformations on the ocean surface and on numerous water bodies in Alaska was very complex. In addition to the major tectonic wave that was generated by the displacement of the ocean floor between the trench and the coastline, about 20 local tsunamis were generated in a number of bays in south-central Alaska. 

Local near-field tsunamis caused most of the damage and accounted for 76% of tsunami fatalities. The contributing factors were slip on relatively steep intraplate splay faults that made the initial tsunami wave higher and closer to the shore, and submarine slides triggered by strong ground shaking in steep-sided fjords.  

The 1964 Alaska tsunami fits into the category of tsunami disasters for which near-field tsunami forecasting is extremely complicated due to proximity of the earthquake rupture zone to the coastal area, and susceptibility of the glacial fjord environment to slope failures. The numerical studies of its complex source mechanism help us understand tsunami potential of future subduction zone earthquakes.


Image: Denali Fault

How did Denali get so tall? 

Date: January 25, 2024
Time: 10:00 a.m. (AK Standard Time)
Presenter: Peter Haeussler, Research Geologist
Abstract: This talk will summarize threads of my sporadic research over the last two decades that address different aspects of what contributes to the high elevation of Denali and the central Alaska Range. This will include aspects of earthquake geology - the 2002 M7.9 Denali fault earthquake, active tectonics, bedrock geology, erosion, and climate that all contribute to the incredible topography of the tallest mountain in North America. The 45-minute talk is aimed at a general audience and questions are welcome.



Alaska's Pacific Salmon Under Climate Change

Biologist with a Chinook salmon in a large net from a boat on the Yukon River

Date: December 5, 2023
Time: 11 a.m. (AK Standard Time)
Presenter: Dr. Vanessa von Biela, USGS Research Fish Biologist
Abstract: Research over the last decade has resulted in a major shift in our understanding of Pacific salmon response to climate change in Alaska. This has been an abrupt shift from past research and assumptions that warmer was better for northern salmon populations across life stages and habitats, to a much more nuanced understanding that begins to recognize where and how climate change presents risks to northern Pacific salmon. Dr. von Biela will review recently published research and highlight ongoing studies that aim to inform management of these iconic species. This work recognizes the importance of Pacific salmon to people, and specifically the mandate for subsistence opportunities on Federal public lands. 




Four geologists with packs climbing a slope with low vegetation and rocks above Larsen Bay, Alaska. Fog rolling in.

The Aleutian Cradle of Tsunamis

Date: November 8, 2023
Time: 11 a.m. (AK Standard Time)
Presenter: Rob Witter, USGS Research Geologist
About the Talk: The talk will summarize over a decade of research that offers surprising insights about great Aleutian earthquakes that generate dangerous, often far-travelling tsunamis across the Pacific Ocean. The presentation focuses on the pace and scale of great Aleutian earthquakes like the 1957 Great Aleutian earthquake; the Hawaiian impacts of trans-Pacific tsunamis born in the Aleutians; a detective story about predecessors of 20th century Alaskan quakes; and how projected sea-level rise over the next century increases tsunami wave heights in ports of southern California.


October 2019 - March 2020 series


Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Gulls and Environments of Alaska

Date/Time: March 5, 2020 @ 10 a.m. (Alaska time)  
Speaker: Christina Ahlstrom

Woman holding gull with satellite tag on it's back
Christina Ahlstrom holding a gull tagging with a satellite transmitter. (Public domain.)

About the Talk: Antibiotic resistance is a threat to public health globally, though limited information is available regarding the prevalence and spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the environment. Scientists at the Alaska Science Center sample feces from large-bodied gulls (Larus spp.) inhabiting locations across Alaska to gain inference into how wildlife may acquire and disperse antibiotic resistant bacteria. By comparing the prevalence and genetic relatedness of resistant bacteria harbored by gulls, scientists have found associations between antibiotic resistance in gulls and anthropogenically influenced habitats. Satellite tracking of gulls has provided additional evidence that gulls may disperse antibiotic resistant bacteria at both local and trans-continental scales. This talk will highlight the use of complementary approaches to understand the epidemiology of antibiotic resistant bacteria in wildlife and how resulting data can be used to predict the relative dispersal risk of clinically important antibiotic resistant bacteria by gulls.

More Information: Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Migratory Birds
About the AuthorChristina Ahlstrom, Ph.D.


Capturing Change in the Icefield-to-Ocean Ecosystem of Southcentral Alaska

Glacier mass balance measurements on Taku Glacier, Alaska
Students Stacey Edmonsond (left) and Audrey Erickson (right) of the Juneau Icefield Research Program, measuring glacier mass balance at the flow divide of Taku and Mendenhall glaciers during the summer of 2019.(Credit: Christopher McNeil, USGS. Public domain.)

Date/Time: January 23, 2020 @ 10 a.m. (Alaska time) 
Speakers: Shad O'Neel and Joe Yelverton

About the Talk: As Alaska warms, its land ice is disappearing, at rates among the highest on Earth.  Myriad downstream impacts stem from ice removal, with feedbacks among processes challenging our understanding of future states. This talk will blend science and outreach aspects of research ongoing at southcentral Alaska’s Wolverine Glacier. O’Neel will cover recent advances in the long-term mass balance efforts, and how new a biogeochemical project compliments mass balance research. Yelverton will discuss his investigations of the human aspect of science. His independent research examines what motivates people and how purpose can drive their ambition.

More Information: Glacier and Climate Project
About the Authors: Shad O'Neel and Joe Yelverton


Planning for Change: Characterizing the Effects of Industrial Activities on Polar Bears

Female and two cubs polar bears on the sea ice
Female and two young-of-the-year cubs polar bears on the sea ice.​​​​​​​(Credit: Mike Lockhart, USGS. Public domain.)

Date/Time: December 10, 2019 @ 10 a.m. (Alaska time) 
Speaker: George Durner and Todd Atwood

About the Talk: Alaska’s North Slope is characterized by a large and growing industrial footprint. Progressive degradation of sea ice habitat has led polar bears (Ursus maritimus) from the southern Beaufort Sea (SB) subpopulation to become more reliant on terrestrial habitat for refugia in summer and fall and denning in winter. As industrial activities increase, so will their potential to affect bear behavior and population vital rates. Accordingly, it will be important to improve our understanding of the cumulative effects of environmental change and industrial development on the health, behavior, and population dynamics of polar bears.

The USGS Alaska Science Center has studied the SB subpopulation of polar bears for decades. This talk will provide a brief overview of the USGS process used to identify stakeholder needs for informing the proactive management of polar bears in an industrialized landscape. We will then discuss a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife and USGS case study developed for industry and wildlife managers to demonstrate how different seismic survey designs could affect the level of impact hydrocarbon exploration has on denning polar bears.

More Information: Polar Bear Research
About the AuthorGeorge Durner and Todd Atwood

Petroleum Resource Assessments in Arctic Alaska:  Intersection of Science and Policy

Atigun River in Atigun Gorge - Brooks Range in Alaska
View westward along Atigun River in Atigun Gorge.  Rocks in foreground are Lower Cretaceous Fortress Mountain Formation.  Rocks in gorge, along river, are Lower Cretaceous Okpikruak Formation.  Mountains on horizon are mostly carbonates of Carboniferous Lisburne Group.  Location in Brooks Range foothills, about 100 miles southeast of Umiat.(Credit: David Houseknecht, USGS. Public domain.)

Date/Time: November 20, 2019 @ 2 p.m. (Alaska time) 
Speaker: Dave Houseknecht

About the Talk: 

Arctic Alaska, despite hosting the largest conventional oil field in North America, remains the least explored petroleum province of the Nation.  The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), responsible for assessing undiscovered oil and gas resources beneath onshore and state waters of the U.S. and the world, conducts geological research in northern Alaska to provide objective estimates of resource potential.  Results include definition of areas where resources are expected to occur and volumes of technically recoverable resources, including estimates of accumulation sizes (oil or gas pools).  These become the basis for estimating how much of the resource may be economically recoverable over a range of market prices.

USGS petroleum resource assessments commonly are utilized in policy decision-making and are reported in the popular media.  Translating for a non-technical audience the scientific basis and results of assessments is a significant challenge for the USGS, especially when politically volatile issues are involved.  With a topic as important and as sensitive as the petroleum geology of the Arctic Alaska, our science must be unwaveringly objective, transparent, and clearly articulated for all to understand.

This talk will provide a general overview of the science with which we constrain assessments, the complexity of communicating that science to policy makers and the general public, and the highs and lows of nearly 30 years of representing USGS petroleum resource assessments in Washington, Juneau, and nationwide.

More Information: Alaska Petroleum Systems
About the AuthorDave Houseknecht

Yukon Chinook Salmon and Heat Stress

close up of Chinook salmon head and gills
Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) captured near Pilot Station, Alaska, and used in a heat stress experiment to validate the use of a gene transcription and heat shock proteins to indicate stress. ​​​​​​​(Credit: Vanessa von Biela, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)

Date/Time: October 15, 2019 @ 9 a.m. (Alaska time) 
Speaker: Vanessa von Biela

About the Talk Observations of dead salmon in rivers across western Alaska during the summer of 2019 reinforced the concern that water temperatures may be inducing heat stress in salmon. For the last several years a team of researchers from multiple USGS Science Centers, Fish and Wildlife Service, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and a subsistence community have been working to identify and understand heat stress in Chinook salmon. This talk will detail the results of a captive heat stress experiment to identify gene and protein expression biomarkers of heat stress in adult Yukon Chinook salmon and the application of these biomarkers to estimate the prevalence of heat stress in free ranging Chinook salmon.

More Information: Assessing heat stress in migrating Yukon River Chinook Salmon
About the AuthorVanessa von Biela




October 2018 - May 2019 Series



Environmental DNA at the Alaska Science Center

Invasive aquatic plant Elodea along the shore of Little Campbell Lake in Anchorage, Alaska
Invasive aquatic plant Elodea along the shore of Little Campbell Lake in Anchorage, Alaska. ​​​​​​​(Credit: Katrina Mueller, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public domain.)

Date/Time: May 16, 2019 @ 9 a.m. (Alaska time)
Speaker: Damian Menning

About the Talk:  Environmental DNA (eDNA) is DNA extracted from a variety of environmental sources (water, soil, sediment, scat, gastrointestinal systems, air, etc.) and can be used to detect the presence of invasive species and pathogens, determine community structure and species distributions, and analyze diets. Molecular techniques for recovering eDNA are rapidly becoming mainstream due to the relative ease of collecting eDNA samples and the myriad questions that eDNA research can address. This presentation will cover the basics of molecular techniques currently employed at the Molecular Ecology Laboratory, including metabarcoding laboratory methods and the development of bioinformatics pipelines, as well as review current, past, and proposed future projects.

More Information:  Molecular Ecology Laboratory in Alaska
About the Author: Damian Menning
Other Contributing Scientists: Sandra Talbot and Sarah Sonsthagen

Anchorage area geology: how the rocks in our back yard inform our understanding of hazards, mountains, and gold!

Date/Time: April 17, 2019 @ 9 a.m. (Alaska time)
Speaker: Sue Karl

About the Talk:  South-central Alaska has a long history of subduction, the geologic process by which a tectonic plate of the earth’s crust slides beneath another plate. Ocean crust has been subducting beneath Alaska for millions of years.  This process has resulted in tectonic uplift and exposure of rocks forged deep beneath south-central Alaska.  Rocks exposed in the Anchorage area demonstrate components of the subduction process that are responsible for earthquakes, volcanoes, mountain building, basin formation, and gold, coal, and gas resources. 

This presentation will provide a tour of rocks in the Anchorage area and their contribution to our understanding of fundamental geologic processes in subduction zones in Alaska and around the world. 

More Information:  Geology
About the Author: Sue Karl

Alaska's Mineral Resources

Darby Mountain outcrop of quartz monzonite towards the contact between the pluton and Paleozoic marbles
Looking east past a typical Darby Mountain outcrop of quartz monzonite towards the contact between the pluton and Paleozoic marbles.​​​​​​​(Public domain.)

Date/Time: March 20, 2019 @ 9 a.m. (Alaska time)
Speaker: Doug Kreiner

About the Talk:  Alaska is rich with metal resources, including those considered critical minerals.  Resource exploration and development are significant drivers of Alaska’s state economy.  Alaska contains 5 active metal mines, an additional seven deposits are in various stages of advanced exploration and permitting. Early-stage exploration is beginning to see a resurgence in the state, as companies have showed a renewed interest in Alaska. Resource development is essential for the advancement of society, including in green applications such as renewable energy, electric cars, and technology. All of these require the production of significant quantities of earth’s resources. Despite the richness in mineral resources, Alaska is still a geological frontier, indicating immense future potential for the states mineral resources.  Further, Alaska faces significant challenges to resource development, such as a lack of infrastructure. Understanding where mineral resources, specifically critical mineral resources, are located across the state is foundational to the ability of conducting mineral prospectivity analyses in the state.  Further understanding how, why, and where these resources occur will enable a broader of understanding of the potential of Alaska’s mineral resources.  

More Information:  Geology
About the Author: Doug Kreiner

Sea Otter Research in Alaska: Conservation Relevance for Nearshore Marine Ecosystems

Sea otter in kelp
Sea otter in kelp.​​​​​​​(Credit: Benjamin Weitzman, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)

Date/Time: February 12, 2019 @ 9 a.m. (Alaska time)
Speaker: Dan Monson

About the Talk:  Sea otters are a key-stone predator in nearshore ecosystems. Their presence causes a cascade of community-structuring effects and makes them an excellent indicator of nearshore ecosystem health.  Their adaptations to marine living have led to consequential interactions with humans, such as the eighteenth-century fur trade and more recent conflicts with subsistence and commercial fishers. The USGS has a long history studying sea otters throughout their range that includes collaborative work with USFWS and researchers in Alaska, California, Washington, British Columbia and Russia. This talk will highlight research findings in areas of sea otter biology and ecology, species over-exploitation and population recovery, and the current direction of sea otter research conducted by USGS and collaborators.

More Information:  Nearshore Marine Ecosystem Research
About the Author: Dan Monson

Examining the Impact of the Invasive Plant Elodea on Fish Performance in a Subarctic Food Webs

Speaker: Mike Carey
More Information: Effect of Elodea spp. on Fish Performance Mediated Through Food Web Interactions
About the Author: Mike Carey

Status of the Threatened Spectacled Eider in Alaska and recent Research by USGS and Partners

Speaker: Kate Martin (USFWS), Tyler Lewis (ADF&G), and Paul Flint (USGS)

About the Talk: Spectacled eider Somateria fischeri numbers declined from the 1950's to 1994 and they are considered threatened in accordance with the US Endangered Species Act throughout their range.  The nesting population on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta has been slowly increasing and may be approaching the threshold identified for delisiting.  The Alaska Science Center in cooperation with the USFWS and the Alaska SeaLife Center has conducted a series of studies to assess the status of the population relative to the delisting criteria and project future population trends under various climate change scenarios.  This talk will summarize the recent survey data for nesting eiders and describe the process to estimate visibility correction factors to convert survey indices to population estimates.  We will also discuss the relationship between annual survival and lead poisoning and Bearing Sea ice conditions.  Finally, we will discuss the non-linear effect of ice conditions and what that means for Spectacled Eider populations under various climate change scenarios. 

More Information:  Waterfowl Research
About the Author: Kate Martin (USFWS), Tyler Lewis (ADF&G), and Paul Flint (USGS)

Approximate Causal Inference for Studies of Human Impacts on Wildlife: the Case of Pacific Walrus and Marine Ship Traffic

3 walrus resting on an ice floe
Pacific walrus resting on ice in the Chukchi Sea, Alaska. This field work was part a satellite tagging expedition in the northwest Chukchi Sea to understand movement patterns, foraging behaviors of walruses and important summering habitats.​​​​​​​(Credit: Rebecca Taylor, USGS. Public domain.)

Date/Time: November 6, 2018 @ 9:00 a.m. (Alaska time)
Speaker: Rebecca Taylor

About the Talk: A pressing problem in the study of human impacts to wildlife populations is the need to determine cause and effect when only observational data (as opposed to data from randomized, controlled studies) are available.  Because manipulating wild systems, populations and individuals usually ranges from intractable to impossible, wildlife research is almost exclusively observational, and statistical methods must be used to approximate causal inference (i.e. to roughly determine cause and effect).  This talk discusses these methods with examples from the Pacific walrus, a species of conservation concern that is affected by loss of sea ice on which it likes to rest.  It is currently unknown if the walrus population is also affected by ship traffic, but managers are concerned about potential disturbance from this human impact, and rely on USGS to provide scientific answers to inform potential policy decisions.  Approximate causal inference methods are not commonly used in wildlife studies, but are needed to answer this question because of multiple confounding factors. For example, walruses rest more when there is floating ice available for them to lie on, and most ships try to avoid ice. If walruses rest more when there are no ships present, does this mean ships disturb walruses, or could it be an artifact of ships avoiding places walruses most like to rest?  USGS has long been a leader in development of statistical methods applicable to wildlife management, and should be a leader in using the best available techniques to disentangle complicated cause and effect problems. ​​​​​​​

More Information:  Biometrics Research, now the Ecosystems Analytics
About the Author: Rebecca Taylor

Changing Arctic Hydrology and the Implications for Water Resources and Ecosystems

A conceptual model of effect of permafrost on catchment hydrology.
A conceptual model of effect of permafrost on catchment hydrology – permafrost may restrict deep flow, leading to quick drainage of aquifers. As permafrost thaws, altered flowpaths (from red to blue) affect water residence times and solute loads, with implications for the stream ecosystem.(Credit: Kim Wickland, USGS. Public domain.)

Date/Time: October 18, 2018 @ 9:00 a.m. (Alaska time)
Speaker: Josh Koch

About the Talk: Arctic environments are in a state of rapid change due to warming temperatures, with ongoing and likely future impacts to water resources and ecosystems.  Permafrost thaw, vegetation growth, and increasing frequency of wildfires are impacting the availability of water and the partitioning of water between surface and groundwater reservoirs.  Warming and thaw of permafrost are also changing the availability and transport of nutrients and contaminants to downstream ecosystems.  These changes have direct implications for humans, wildlife, and ecosystems because they may impact water availability for drinking, industrial activity, and habitat, and the concentrations of solutes, including nutrients and contaminants within that water.  The USGS is uniquely positioned to address these concerns, given a strong foundation in quantifying surface and groundwater and their interactions, long-term monitoring of water quantity and quality, and laboratories at the leading edge of water analysis for solute, nutrients, carbon, and contaminants.  This talk will describe current USGS research in boreal, alpine and arctic ecosystems of Alaska and highlight our efforts to quantify the hydrological and biogeochemical changes that are taking place.

More Information:  Arctic-Boreal Catchment Studies
About the Author: Josh Koch