The National Science Foundation has announced two new oceanic LTER sites, both based in regions with highly productive fisheries. In addition, the newly-announced Beaufort Lagoon Ecosystems (BLE) LTER will focus on changes occurring both on land and in the ocean that affect Arctic ecosystems over time.

The Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) LTER site, led by Russell Hopcroft at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, will focus on emergent properties of ecosystems, particularly three hypotheses:

  1. Changes in the hydrologic cycle affect spring bloom production through changes in cloud cover, the stratification/mixing balance, macro- and micronutrient supplies, and transport pathways.
  2. Hot-spots of high summer primary and secondary production result from interactions between the fresher Alaska Coastal Current and more saline offshore waters as promoted by shelf morphology and regional winds; hot spot timing and magnitude will be influenced by changes in the hydrologic cycle.
  3. Nutritional and life history patterns of NGA consumers minimize trophic mismatch, buffering spatial and temporal variability in lower trophic level production and leading to resilience in the face of long-term climate change.

The research plan of the Northeastern U.S. Shelf (NES) LTER, led by Heidi Sosik at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, is guided by an overarching science question:

How is long-term environmental change impacting the pelagic NES ecosystem and, in particular, affecting the relationship between compositional (e.g., species diversity and size structure) and aggregate (e.g., rates of primary production, and transfer of energy to important forage fish species) variability?

Capitalizing on high levels of seasonal and interannual variability in the NES, the research will study short-term responses to environmental change, in order to:

  1. Characterize low and high export food webs
  2. Understand the linkages and transfer of energy from the phytoplankton to pelagic fish, and
  3. Identify the mechanisms that underlie shifts between high and low export communities

The Beaufort Lagoon Ecosystem (BLE) LTER is led by Ken Dunton at University of Texas-Austin in collaboration with researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Oregon State University, The University of Texas at El Paso, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the University of Toronto Mississauga.

The planned research will advance our fundamental understanding of how input of materials from land and oceanographic conditions interact to influence coastal food webs. It will also allow researchers to track and understand:

  1. How natural climate cycles influence coastal ecosystems in the Arctic
  2. How climate change effects such as permafrost thaw, shifting precipitation regimes, and losses of sea ice alter coastal ecosystems

Near-shore food webs along the Alaskan Arctic coastline support large populations of migratory fish and waterfowl that are essential to the culture of Iñupiat communities of northern Alaska. The research at this LTER site will create a framework for anticipating the impacts of future changes on the coastal ecosystem that are of great concern to these communities.

Project start dates for the new sites are between August and October of 2017.