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December 10, 2019

The USGS Alaska Science Center is now embarking on the next 5-year (FY2020 – 2024) research plan of the Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative.

The U.S. Geological Survey is a science agency within the Department of the Interior (DOI) and directs its research activities to critical science needs of DOI management agencies. In Alaska, USGS conducts research on geology, energy and minerals, water, landscapes, and ecosystems. This work is primarily focused on lands and marine areas managed by the Federal government, such as the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Water Resources research and monitoring is conducted with a range of Federal, State, local government, and other funding partners.

Currently, USGS has several research projects focused on the Arctic region of Alaska and Canada and much of that research is organized under the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative.  This initiative began in 2010 with a primary objective to understand the rapid physical changes, such as increasing temperature and reduced sea ice, taking place in the Arctic and to quantify and forecast how Arctic wildlife and habitats are responding to these changes.  See here for examples.

The USGS Alaska Science Center is now embarking on the next 5-year (FY2020 – 2024) research plan of the Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative.

The new 5-year plan organizes sixteen new research projects into four themes (specific project titles are listed below):

  • Theme 1: Wildlife of management concern in the Arctic
  • Theme 2: Minimizing effects of Arctic energy development on wildlife
  • Theme 3: Biosurveillance
  • Theme 4: Algal toxins

Projects within these themes focus on key Arctic species such as polar bears, caribou, walrus, and migratory birds, but also emerging topics that include harmful algal toxins, Giardia and the response of wildlife to energy development in northern Alaska.

The Changing Arctic Ecosystems initiative is not the only program by which USGS conducts Arctic research, but is a coordinated initiative focused on addressing important issues in a rapidly changing Arctic. The Initiative also includes support for:

  • Data management and public accessibility of USGS Arctic research
  • Alaska Native and Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) student internships
  • Outreach and communication of research plans and findings to villages and communities near where USGS conducts its work
  • Hiring of a new quantitative ecologist to enable the USGS to more rapidly respond to the science information needs of Department of Interior management agencies

Research projects within the 2020-2024 timeline are listed below.


Theme 1: Wildlife Species of Management Concern in the Arctic

  • Demographic trend of the Pacific walrus, 2016-2025
  • Quantifying body condition and reproductive rate in Pacific walrus
  • Assessing the effects of climate-induced variability on the behavior, distribution and demography of the Porcupine Caribou Herd
  • Genomic capacity of threatened eiders in a rapidly changing environment
  • Identifying food web supports to Arctic fisheries
  • Assessing possible drivers of red-throated loon productivity in the Beaufort Sea
  • Assessing the population status of two rare taxa endemic to the central Bering Sea, Alaska: McKay’s Bunting and Pribilof Rock Sandpiper

Theme 2: Minimizing Effects of Arctic Energy Development on Wildlife

  • Characterizing the cumulative effects of rapid environmental change and industrial development on the behavior and population dynamics of polar bears
  • Quantifying the response of Arctic caribou to different types of energy infrastructure and effectiveness of mitigation measures for minimizing impacts
  • Assessment of helicopter-induced disturbance on molting black brant in the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska

Theme 3: Biosurveillance in the Arctic

  • An environmental DNA (eDNA) approach to determine eelgrass pathogen distribution in Alaska
  • Application of molecular tools for assessing the range expansion of Cryptosporidium and Giardia in Arctic Alaska

Theme 4: Algal Toxins in the Arctic

  • Rapid response and laboratory support for investigation of algal toxins in Alaska seabirds
  • Assessing the effects of saxitoxin ingestion by common murres
  • Biogeography of biotoxins in seabirds across Alaska
  • Assessment of biotoxin accumulation and transfer through pelagic food webs in Alaska


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