Arctic Species

Science Center Objects

USGS scientists are researching wildlife species and their responses to ecosystem change to inform management decisions related to development of oil, gas and mineral resources on Bureau of Land
Management lands and on the Outer Continental Shelf managed by Bureau of Ocean Energy
Management.

 

Each project below is associated with a type of energy production or transmission. Types of energy production or transmission are represented by the following icons:

Oil and gas extraction icon

Oil and gas extraction

Abbreviations used in project descriptions are defined on the Energy and Wildife Abbrevations page.

Line

Breeding Territory Retention in Pacific and Yellow-Billed Loons in the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska

Oil and gas extraction icon

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

USGS scientists evaluated the role of breeding success and competition on territory retention by Pacific and yellowbilled loons. Annual territory retention rates were greater than 90 percent regardless of prior nesting success in a territory. Occupied territories were also frequently visited by nonbreeding loons. Yellow-billed loon results suggest there is limited habitat in NPR–A for new territories, and the extent of breeding habitat in northern Alaska may be limiting the size of the breeding population. In contrast, Pacific loons appear more able to establish new territories outside occupied territories. Study results indicate that territory retention and apparent survival rates for both loon species are high, and chick production does not affect loon territory retention. This information may be useful for guiding future oil and gas development near yellow-billed loon nesting areas.

 

Distribution and Abundance of Pacific Walrus in Relation to Offshore Development in Alaska

Oil and gas extraction icon

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Increasing ice-free periods in the Arctic creates greater opportunities for offshore oil and gas development in the Chukchi Sea, Alaska. These activities, and their reliance on onshore infrastructure and shipping, require information on the distribution of Pacific walrus and their habitats to identify ways for industry to operate effectively while meeting conservation goals set by government agencies. USGS scientists developed novel satellite radio tracking devices to map feeding areas used by walruses. These maps are used by the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard for managing vessel transit corridors. Scientists are now developing ways to use unmanned aircraft systems to estimate the abundance and distribution of Pacific walruses and their habitats in the Chukchi Sea. These studies have informed incidental take regulations and mitigation measures that can guide offshore development in minimizing interactions with walrus foraging and resting areas.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Gulf Watch Alaska Program for Quantifying Coastal Marine Ecosystem Change

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Oil and gas development and transportation activities are major components of Alaska’s economy, and some of these activities occur along Alaska’s coasts. USGS is engaged in a collaborative marine monitoring program, Gulf Watch Alaska, which documents the status, variation over time, and underlying drivers of change in Alaska’s coastal marine ecosystems. This work quantifies the abundance, distribution, and change in hundreds of marine species, including many of high interest to management agencies. USGS has been heavily involved in studies documenting the effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill on the recovery of the wildlife population. This work provides a context for understanding the potential response of marine ecosystems to energy development relative to other sources of change.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Measuring the Impacts of Industrial Activities on Polar Bears

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

USGS scientists are characterizing change in the abundance, distribution, and health of polar bears relative to human activities in the Arctic. These studies emphasize the identification of critical habitats potentially at risk of disturbance from industrial activities along Alaska’s arctic coast. This work has informed efforts of DOI agencies and industry when considering the consequences of oil spills and exposures to pollutants and actions to mitigate such occurrences. USGS continues to work closely with DOI and industry partners to identify circumstances in which industrial activities likely adversely affect polar bears. Future work is expected to focus on the potential for resource development activities on land and offshore to directly and indirectly benefit polar bear behavior and health.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Mitigating the Impacts of Energy Development on Polar Bears

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

USGS works closely with other DOI agencies to identify science needed to inform actions that mitigate the impacts of energy development on polar bears. Information generated by USGS scientists is used by USFWS to guide regulations regarding the incidental take of polar bears by industry, BOEM to guide decisions regarding permitting of offshore oil and gas exploration and extraction, and BLM to mitigate the effects of energy development on polar bears that den within NPR–A. USGS work is focusing on improving decision-making tools for these agencies to assess the relative importance of environmental and anthropogenic stressors to polar bears.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Survey Data

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

USGS produced the North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database, an online resource compiling the results of 40 years of bird surveys from the United States, Canada, Japan, and Russia. The database documents the abundance and distribution of 160 seabird and 41 marine mammal species over a 26-million-square-kilometer, or 10-million-square-mile, region of the North Pacific. This database is a powerful tool for analysis and mitigation of anthropogenic effects on marine ecosystems of the Arctic and North Pacific, including the impacts of oil development and production, fisheries, and vessel traffic. Use of this tool also provides an unprecedented opportunity to study the biogeography and marine ecology of dozens of species of seabirds and marine mammals throughout their range in Continental Shelf waters of the United States.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Quantifying the Response of Pacific Walrus to Ocean Noise in the Arctic

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Walruses spend the majority of their time in water, where their underwater acoustic environment enables them to communicate with one another using sound and thus respond to disturbance. USGS scientists are using telemetry data and remote sensing information of sea ice and other environmental variables to study the effects of ocean noise from vessel traffic and offshore industrial activities on Pacific walrus activity patterns. Models are being developed to link levels of activity patterns to walrus energy expenditures and their potential effect on walrus rates of reproduction and survival. The results of these studies can be used to quantify the potential population-level impacts to walruses from offshore oil and gas development and associated support vessels off the coast of arctic Alaska.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Status of Seabirds and Forage Fish in Cook Inlet, Alaska

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Seabird densities in lower Cook Inlet are among the highest in Alaska, and populations were decimated by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Large resident and migratory seabird populations are sustained by local stocks of key forage fish species. Monitoring of seabird populations and forage fish stocks in potential oil and gas lease areas is a BOEM priority, both to mitigate the impacts of development and to assess the impact of potential oil spills. In 2016, USGS initiated new studies to update knowledge gained from seabird and forage fish studies in lower Cook Inlet from 1995 to 2000, in advance of potential lease sales and associated activities in Cook Inlet during 2017 and beyond. These studies are also assessing change in seabird and fish populations following anomalous high temperatures in 2014–16.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Summary of Wildlife-Related Research in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

USGS summarized publicly available information from studies within the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as well as terrestrial and coastal ecosystems elsewhere in the Arctic Coastal Plain that are relevant to the 1002 Area. The report provides an update on earlier research summaries on caribou, forage quality and quantity, polar bears, muskoxen, and snow geese, and resources such as forage quality and quantity. The report also includes information on new research related to climate, migratory birds, permafrost, coastal erosion, coastal lagoons, fish, water resources, and the potential effects of industrial disturbance on wildlife.

 

Caribou crossing the Selawik River, Alaska

Caribou crossing the Selawik River, Alaska. (Credit: Chris Zimmerman, USGS. Public domain.)