Past Student Spotlight, Faculty Focus and Staff Snapshot Profiles
Student Spotlight: Amanda Blackburn
by Barb Hameister
Student Spotlight: Amanda Blackburn
When Amanda Blackburn’s sixth-grade class went on a whale-watching cruise, she was enthralled. It was her first time out on the ocean and she loved being surrounded by the water and the abundant marine life. “For as long as I can remember I have been interested in nature, and as a kid spent large amounts of time running around poking stuff with a stick,” the oceanography master’s student says with a quiet smile. “I also spent a lot of time asking questions about the world around me.”
Amanda grew up in Ogdensburg, a small city on the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York. Less than an hour’s drive north is Ottawa, the Canadian national capital. To the east lies the legendary Adirondack State Park, a favorite destination for the outdoors-oriented Blackburn family.
Many of Amanda’s family members have careers in medicine, and she entered college with the idea of becoming a doctor. In the end, however, her love of the ocean won out. During her studies Amanda became particularly intrigued by the question of how animal species interact with the physical environment. She graduated from the State University of New York, Potsdam, with a double major in geology and biology, concentrating in marine biology.
Pursuing different research opportunities kept Amanda busy throughout her undergraduate degree. She spent a summer at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory on Biloxi Bay, Mississippi, taking field courses through the University of Southern Mississippi. The area and the work appealed to her so much that she returned the next summer to intern at the GCRL Marine Microbiology lab. She also did an undergraduate research project on yellow perch in the Saint Lawrence River and assisted on two other laboratory projects, one on zebrafish and the other on bottlenose dolphins.
But Amanda also wanted more hands-on experience in geology, and was accepted for an internship in exploration geology at an open-pit gold mine in Nevada. She found it challenging but extremely rewarding, and the experience reinforced her resolve to pursue graduate work that was linked to both geology and biology.
However, she quickly discovered that finding a degree program with that particular combination was not going to be easy. Amanda recalls searching through numerous catalogs and resources before she finally found what she was looking for with her advisor Jennifer Reynolds at CFOS. The two are now applying marine geological mapping and oceanography to seafloor habitats, and collaborating with fishery biologists on current issues.
Amanda appreciates being able to play an active role in developing her thesis research. While reviewing possible topics with Jennifer, Amanda became very interested in the diverse geological history and ecology of Kachemak Bay and decided to focus her research there. With advice from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, she narrowed down the possible species to focus on and settled on Tanner crab and Pacific cod.
The once-thriving crab fisheries of the Kachemak Bay area collapsed by the early 1980s after a shift in climate conditions that no longer favored crab populations. Commercial crab fishing has been closed since 1994. Groundfish species such as Pacific cod, however, thrived. More recently there has been a shift back to conditions that favor Tanner crab, yet the population has failed to recover.
Amanda’s project involves the construction of habitat maps that examine the preferences and distribution of potential habitat for each species, and where these overlap. She will examine changes in Tanner crab and Pacific cod populations in the areas where both are found, based on ADF&G survey data. These maps will help determine whether Pacific cod, which are known to be aggressive predators of Tanner crab, might have prevented their comeback through what is known as a predator pit. In this scenario, a predator persistently beats down the numbers of a prey stock to a very low level in a way that would not be possible if their populations were more balanced in the first place.
The results of Amanda’s work will be useful not only for understanding the ecology of Kachemak Bay, but also for fisheries management, as Kachemak Bay is the area where ADF&G conducts surveys to determine population estimates and fisheries openings for Tanner crab in the rest of Southeastern Cook Inlet.
Life as a graduate student keeps Amanda plenty busy, but she has many other interests as well. Since moving to Alaska, photography has become a major pursuit, and she enjoys taking long walks with camera in hand to capture the local wildlife and landscapes. Music has also been a big part of Amanda’s life. While growing up she sang in choirs and performed in several stage productions, and she is a fan of opera as well as Broadway musicals.
An avid reader since childhood, Amanda enjoys all kinds of books but admits to a weakness for English history, both fiction and nonfiction. She also particularly likes space science fiction and says her favorite author of the moment is Terry Pratchett. While she often uses her Kindle while traveling, at home there are always several stacks of books of all kinds awaiting her attention—and most days, despite a busy schedule, she carves out at least a few minutes to happily curl up with a good read.
Staff Snapshot: Dawn Montano
by Barb Hameister
Staff Snapshot: Dawn Montano
When Dawn Montano arrived in Fairbanks in August of 1995, she had no intention of staying.
She hadn’t really wanted to come at all, but her parents didn’t want her sister, who had just gotten a teaching job in Fairbanks, to face the long drive north from Idaho on her own. Dawn dutifully went along on the trip and then helped her sister get settled during the fall, fully expecting to be back home by Christmas. But when she was offered a job that she really enjoyed, and soon after met her husband-to-be, she decided to stay—and Fairbanks has been home ever since.
Growing up on a small farm in southeast Idaho in the shadow of the majestic Tetons, Dawn spent a lot of time outdoors. Horseback riding and hiking were frequent family activities. She especially loved skiing and Grand Targhee, the famous alpine ski resort just over the border in Wyoming, was her “home slope.”
Dawn attended a private college in Idaho to study health science, thinking she might want to be a nurse someday. She also got interested in graphic design, took a few courses, and found she had a knack for it. In Fairbanks she worked as a graphic designer until her daughters were born and continued freelancing from home while they were young.
For the past nine years Dawn has worked for Alaska Sea Grant. As the ASG bookstore manager, she processes and ships orders and manages inventory and billing. Dawn employs her graphic designs skills to create promotional pieces for the bookstore, authors, meetings and the various ASG programs. She also designs and manages email campaigns, and helps with social media and event planning. Her position is shared with UA Press, and she assists them with similar tasks one day a week.
With her helpful, friendly demeanor and can-do attitude, Dawn is a valued friend and colleague to many. Carol Kaynor, who worked with Dawn at ASG for many years, says, “Dawn is one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I know. She’s always willing to help, no matter what the task.”
Dawn still loves horses and horseback riding, and shares her enthusiasm as a volunteer with 4-H, Pony Club, and the Fairbanks Competitive Trail Ride. She’s also very involved with the Fairbanks Alpine Ski Club, serving on the board of directors and coaching young skiers. “I enjoy the kids’ enthusiasm and excitement as they speed down the hill and work on their skills. And I adore listening to their stories while riding up the chairlift or while getting hot chocolate!”
Dawn and her family enjoy traveling, and they try to take one big trip every year. In summer of 2016, while her oldest daughter was in Latvia as an exchange student, they took the opportunity to explore Europe. Dawn says the German state of Bavaria, with its spectacular mountain scenery, was her favorite place to visit.
While Dawn may have been reluctant to come to Fairbanks in the first place, it has turned out to be a good fit for her. “I love nature and being outside,” she says. “I love living in the woods where I can walk out my back door, jump on my horse and ride for hours. That freedom is really important to me.”
Faculty Focus: Anne Beaudreau
by Barb Hameister
Faculty Focus: Anne Beaudreau
It takes some people a long time to discover what they want to be when they grow up—but Anne Beaudreau knew from an early age that she wanted to be a marine biologist.
Originally from Rhode Island, Anne now lives in Juneau, where she is an associate professor of Fisheries at the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. She was the eldest of four in a family that was very focused on the arts and education, and grew up playing the violin and studying drawing and painting.
She also spent many happy days at the shore with her family, and the beach was an infinite source of wonder. “I would get a sore neck from walking along with my head down, searching intently for shells, rocks, sea glass, and other treasures,” she says. “My fascination with the sea and marine life just grew from there.”
Anne went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Biology at Harvard University. In her junior year, with the romance of the sea still beckoning, she spent a semester in the Sea Education Association program. Anne and her fellow students spent six weeks studying topics such as oceanography, maritime history and celestial navigation, followed by six weeks on a tall ship in the Atlantic. It was a pivotal experience that introduced her to the excitement of life at sea and the vibrant history of New England fisheries, thus setting the trajectory for her future career.
After graduating, Anne put her training to work as a fishery analyst for the New England Fishery Management Council, synthesizing information to support federal fishery management plans. It wasn’t always easy going, but she says despite the sometimes contentious atmosphere of New England fishery management, she found herself inspired by the scientists and fishermen who were working together on research that would help build sustainable fisheries. So inspired, in fact, that she decided she wanted to become one of those scientists, and moved across the country to Seattle to learn how.
At the University of Washington, Anne earned a Ph.D. studying the biology and ecology of lingcod, working closely with the recreational fishing community to collect her samples. In turn, these relationships inspired her postdoctoral research at UW and NOAA, where she sought to reconstruct historical abundance of Puget Sound species from fishermen’s local knowledge.
Alaska had first captured Anne’s imagination in 1989 after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, when, as a 10-year-old, she was moved by the plight of oiled sea otters. While living in Washington, with Alaska practically in her back yard, she kept finding ways to visit—first as a volunteer scientist on a NOAA cruise in the Aleutians, then as an unofficial cook on board a purse seiner in Southeast Alaska and a conference attendee at a groundfish meeting in Juneau. When a UAF faculty position opened up, Anne was quick to apply, and she has been happily based in Juneau since January 2012.
At CFOS, Anne and her students study the ecology and human dimensions of coastal fisheries. Much of their work focuses on change, from the dynamics of food webs in estuaries to the impacts of social and environmental change on fishing communities.
One recent study, funded by EPSCoR and Alaska Sea Grant, focused on understanding how receding glaciers and changes in rainfall in the Juneau area will impact the nutrition and growth of estuarine and nearshore marine species. A related ongoing study is investigating the impact of predation by nearshore species on hatchery salmon smolts in estuaries. This work will help guide future management decisions and hatchery release strategies.
Another project has been looking at the effects of regulatory change on charter halibut fishermen in Alaska. Through interviews, the research team found that charter captains are targeting a wider number of species than in the past, and are using different fishing grounds. In some areas these changes are attributed to more restrictive regulations driven by a decrease in the average size of halibut, while in other areas shifts in target species are driven by customer preferences.
While the research being done in Anne’s lab covers a wide variety of topics, a common thread is the use of approaches and perspectives from multiple disciplines, including fisheries science, ecology, and anthropology.
“I truly believe that addressing complex, multidimensional problems in resource management requires approaches and ideas that are not drawn from one discipline alone,” Anne says. “Academia often creates silos in our training and thinking; depth is essential for becoming an expert, but breadth fosters creative problem-solving. Both are important.”
With her early grounding in music and art, Anne is also inspired to explore synergies between the arts and science. She recently directed and produced her first short film, about the value of fishermen’s local knowledge to science and management. While she had many collaborators on the project, perhaps the one most dear to her was her brother Lou, who composed the musical score and mixed the sound. Anne says she is eager to continue finding ways to bring together science, art and storytelling.
This interest in storytelling has also inspired Anne to delve into science communication, and help others learn how to tell their story. She developed and now teaches the course Communicating Science to the Public, in which students practice talking about their research with non-scientists. They learn how to tell science stories that connect with an audience, how to put more humanity into science, and explore ways to personally be ambassadors for science.
“The experience is rigorous, challenging, and, at times, transformative for both the students and me,” Anne says. “I am looking forward to many more years of teaching and learning!”
Find out more about Anne and her research by visiting her website.
Student Spotlight: Casey Clark
by Barb Hameister
Student Spotlight: Casey Clark
On a camping trip to Galbraith Lake in the Brooks Range.
Visiting the Moeraki Boulders on the South Island of New Zealand.
As a Ph.D. student in marine biology, Casey Clark certainly knows the importance of detailed planning, careful measurements, and organization. He is also a firm believer in serendipity.
Casey was born and raised in Bellingham, Washington. He spent his earliest years on a small farm, wandering through fields and exploring the neighboring forest—all the while developing a keen sense of curiosity about biology and nature, and why things are the way they are.
After high school Casey still felt strongly drawn to biology and the outdoors but didn’t yet have a sense of how that interest would play out. He also knew he wanted to see Alaska. These two dreams came together in what he calls a serendipitous opportunity to work in Kodiak with UAF professor Kate Wynne, whom Casey describes with a smile as “a friend’s mom’s friend’s sister.”
Kate took on Casey as a summer intern, and he spent an amazing summer assisting with Kate’s whale research, living alongside a great group of graduate students, and reveling in the natural beauty of the area as well as the seabirds, fish, and marine mammals all around him. After that summer he was completely hooked, and went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in marine biology at the University of California Santa Cruz.
Before moving a few miles down the coast to work on a master’s degree at Moss Landing Marine Laboratory, Casey took a detour to South America, where he spent a few memorable weeks on the Galapagos Islands. He then spent four months in New Zealand, where he assisted a Ph.D. student with field research on Hector’s dolphin, the world’s smallest dolphin species. (Ask him sometime what it’s like to sit for hours in a chilly, damp coastal sheep pasture at dawn, intently scanning the ocean and waiting patiently for dolphins to surface!)
Soon after Casey completed his M.S. on humpback whales in 2013, serendipity struck again with a chance encounter on the streets of Dunedin, New Zealand. Casey had just arrived in town for a big conference and was trying to find his way to the meeting venue. He fell into step behind a man carrying a conference bag and eventually they struck up a conversation in which Casey mentioned his interest in pursuing marine mammal research in Alaska. Impressed by the encounter, the man passed on Casey’s name to a colleague who was actively looking for a Ph.D. student. The colleague, as it turns out, was Dr. Lara Horstmann of CFOS, and this connection led to Casey’s enrollment in a Ph.D. program at UAF under the guidance of Dr. Horstmann and Dr. Nicole Misarti.
Casey’s doctoral research focuses on the impacts of climate change on Pacific walruses. He is investigating the effects of previous warming and cooling in the Arctic on walrus foraging and movements, and hopes to be able to better understand how walruses adapted to previous periods of low Arctic sea ice cover and to determine whether the changes that walruses experienced in the past are analogous to current and future Arctic warming.
To accomplish this, Casey (with the help of many others) has compiled a collection of walrus bones and teeth from archaeological sites, historical collections, and present-day Alaska Native subsistence harvests. These samples together create a timeline that goes back about 4,000 years, with consistent sample coverage from the past 2,000 years. By measuring stable isotope ratios of the walrus bone collagen and trace element concentrations in the walrus teeth, Casey hopes to learn how walrus foraging and movements changed during periods of high and low sea ice cover in the Arctic.
“My work is part of a larger project funded by the National Science Foundation that includes investigations of changes in walrus hormone concentrations, population size, and genetic variability through time,” he says. “Taken together, these multiple lines of evidence will provide important information about the resilience of Pacific walruses to climate change and sea ice loss.”
Many of the samples in the collection he is working with came from the St. Lawrence Island region, and recently Casey had the opportunity to visit the island to present some of his preliminary work to walrus hunters and talk with them about the subsistence harvest, walruses, and how things have been changing in recent years. The trip had a big impact on him.
“Interacting with the walrus hunters on Saint Lawrence Island was an important experience for me, reminding me of the impacts my research may have on Alaska Native communities and of the depth of knowledge people in these communities have about the natural world,” Casey says. “These were things I knew conceptually before the trip, but traveling to Gambell and Savoonga to meet face to face with the hunters who provided many of the samples for our research made these concepts very real for me in a way that they hadn’t been before.”
Casey’s dedication to his graduate program doesn’t leave him with much free time. But when he can squeeze it in, he likes to explore a bit of Alaska by going on camping trips in summer with his partner and their dog. Casey confesses he’s not a huge fan of outdoor winter activities, but he’s always been fascinated by natural phenomena of all kinds, especially the aurora borealis—and he is thrilled to be living in a place where he can experience its magic simply by stepping out his back door on a quiet winter night.
Staff Snapshot: Karl Wuoti
by Barb Hameister
Staff Snapshot: Karl Wuoti
Fiscal technician Karl Wuoti makes his living working with numbers, but don’t picture him as a buttoned-down, desk-bound kind of guy.
Raised on a small family corn farm in Massachusetts, Karl was working on his BA in Business Management at the University of Massachusetts when a friend told him about an opening for a summer job as a glacier guide in Juneau. “It was a toss-up between the glacier job and being a river rafting guide in New England,” Karl says. “I chose to go to Juneau, because it was completely different from where I am from.”
After graduation, Karl spent the next decade or so bouncing around, sometimes in Alaska and sometimes not. Along the way he was a farmer, a coffee roaster, finance manager of a nonprofit, and a kayak guide. There was even a short-term stint at a nuclear power plant, where he signed out tools to personnel doing maintenance during a scheduled plant shutdown.
In 2014, when Karl was back in Massachusetts, Alaska beckoned again and he began looking for a job that would make the move possible. Luck was with him and he landed his current position as a fiscal technician with the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences in Juneau.
Karl’s main duties involve travel and purchasing, but as with many small offices, he covers a variety of other tasks as needed. And as befits his eclectic nature, “I’ve also picked up snow shoveling and lawn mowing since we do not have a facilities person here in Juneau anymore.”
Karl appreciates the good working environment he shares with his fellow staff, and enjoys interacting with the faculty and graduate students. He especially likes working with the students, whether they’re in need of purchasing or travel assistance or, on occasion, when they just need to talk. “Grad school can be kind of stressful sometimes,” he says, “and sometimes they just need a friendly ear.”
Besides job satisfaction, Karl’s position with CFOS provides the income that allows him to live and play in Juneau, which has become something of an adopted hometown. “It’s a great place to be,” he says. “And I love the community events that make me feel connected with the town.” He especially enjoys attending local storytelling events, and has season tickets to Juneau’s highly regarded Perseverance Theatre.
But Juneau’s real draw for Karl is the great outdoors. “I really love hiking around Juneau and enjoying the wilderness that’s right outside out my backdoor,” he says. He enjoys skiing, snowboarding, camping, kayaking—“pretty much anything and everything outdoors. That’s why I live here.” He has also used his outdoor skills to give back to the community by volunteering with ORCA, an adaptive outdoor recreation program.
Karl’s love of wild places and adventure frequently takes him around the state and into Canada. Kluane National Park in the Yukon is one of his favorite destinations for camping and hiking.
When time and funds permit, he likes to go farther afield and explore new places and cultures. This past winter he went to Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. “I was blown away by how amazing Laos was,” Karl says. “Vietnam was very exciting and Hanoi is a crazy city that I fell in love with.”
While he sometimes wishes he had the time and money to travel more, Karl is glad to be where he is. “I’m pretty lucky to have a job I enjoy, the ability to travel occasionally, and a great community to come back home to.”
Faculty Focus: Amanda Kelley
By Barb Hameister
Faculty Focus: Amanda Kelley
Ready for a research dive in Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, Washington
Fashioning an architectural knee brace for an Arts and Crafts home restoration project
Amanda Kelley may not have followed a traditional path on her way to becoming a scientist—among other things, she toured the world as a guitar tech with the rock band Everclear—but she says the additional life experience is a real benefit in her job as an assistant professor with the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.
Amanda moved to Alaska in May 2016 from California, where she had been a postdoc at the University of California Santa Barbara. Living in southern California for three years might not seem like the best way to prepare for life in Alaska, but thanks to the many trips she made to Antarctica for her postdoctoral research, it turns out that Amanda is no stranger to extreme cold.
While growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Amanda loved taking summer trips with her family around Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. She was especially drawn to the beaches and tide pools, and was fascinated by all the wonderful critters she found there. That sense of curiosity and wonder, along with her lifelong love of the ocean, were a big part of why she ultimately chose marine science as a career.
Amanda enrolled at Oregon State University straight out of high school, and was most of the way through a forestry degree program when she decided to leave college to play in several rock bands. After a few years this evolved into a gig as a guitar technician, and she toured around the world with a number of different bands, keeping their instruments in good order.
For a while Amanda made her living as a carpenter. She spent a decade learning the trade of finish carpentry, and specialized in the renovation of Victorian and Arts and Crafts era homes.
Then, in 2006, in her mid-30s and with a renewed focus and determination (and a realization that she couldn’t live the rock and roll carpentry life forever), Amanda enrolled at Portland State University and completed a bachelor’s degree in organismal biology and a doctoral degree in ecological physiology.
She says the problem-solving skills she picked up in the intervening years, not to mention a lot of experience working with many different kinds of people in different situations, have served her well in the world of science and academia.
As an ecological physiologist, Amanda has a particular interest in coastal marine species. Her research primarily focuses on the changes in pH, temperature and salinity that are occurring the world’s oceans, especially around the polar regions, and how coastal marine species and ecosystems may respond to those changes.
She was drawn to the study of physiology by a fascination with the way organisms are able to adapt to environmental changes in both the short- and long term. Having previously worked with a variety of organisms including crabs, snails and sea urchins, now that she’s a faculty member and working with new collaborators, Amanda is excited to be learning about a range of other species such as deepwater corals and pink salmon.
Another major interest is ocean acidification, which refers to the shift in pH of the world’s oceans as they absorb excess CO2 from the atmosphere. Currently Amanda is working with the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward to determine the potential vulnerability of multiple native Alaska clam species to ocean acidification. She is also investigating how marine invertebrates in Antarctica will respond to ocean change.
Amanda was hired by CFOS as a co-director of the Ocean Acidification Research Center (OARC) at UAF. OARC is known world-wide as a research center that has done foundational work identifying ocean acidification hot spots in Alaskan waters. In addition to monitoring areas for the threat of ocean acidification, the center is expanding its efforts to determine the potential vulnerability of marine species to ocean acidification, and Amanda’s expertise will help guide that work.
Along with her own research and her duties at OARC, Amanda is developing a new course called “Human Impacts on the Marine Biosphere” which will explore how species in the ocean are responding to a range of human-caused environmental change.
As a person who is proud of her Native American ancestry (Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone), Amanda also has a keen desire to work with underrepresented people in higher education, and especially with individuals whose communities are impacted by climate change. “I want to share information that will help communities understand and cope with the changes they are experiencing,” she says.
A big fan of the Alaskan do-it-yourself spirit, Amanda has already put her planning and carpentry skills to good use at her home in the hills outside of town. “I knew I could survive a Fairbanks winter if I had a wood stove and hot tub,” Amanda says. So she got busy and built them just in time for her first winter.
With that can-do attitude, her seemingly endless curiosity about the natural world, and a keen sense of adventure, Amanda seems well suited for life in Interior Alaska. She loves being active outdoors and exploring, but also really appreciates the quiet moments to be found while bird-watching, or simply walking her dogs at the end of a long workday.
Student Spotlight: Kofan Lu
Student Profile: Kofan Lu
Enjoying a winter hike
CFOS student profile – Kofan Lu
Kofan Lu is a long way from her home country of Taiwan, but Alaska seems to suit her perfectly.
Kofan is a doctoral student at the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences studying ocean and sea-ice modeling. “My research topic is about instability-induced eddies, sea ice dynamics and modeling,” she explains. “The time and length scales of mesoscale eddies are relatively small compared to other climate change processes. This means they can be observed and perturbed over short periods of time. Also, the physics of sea ice dynamics and thermodynamics are very complicated. That means any small factor can make big changes to the eddies and sea ice. Though it’s complicated, it still has regularity based on physical laws. This is very appealing to me.”
Kofan’s graduate advisors, Tom Weingartner and Seth Danielson, are enthusiastic about her work. “Kofan is an incredibly productive and focused student whose computational and programming abilities have allowed her to make great strides in her research very quickly,” Danielson says. “Her idealized ocean-ice models have provided a lot of insight to hydrographic features that we observe in data collected from ships.”
Before coming to UAF, Kofan earned a master’s degree in Computer Science from National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, where she focused on physics simulation in computer graphics.
“The ways that ocean scenes in animations or video games are simulated are quite similar to modeling the real ocean,” Kofan says. “However, ‘fake physics’ is often used for efficiency or to create dramatic visual effects. This means that even though we can ‘see’ unknown worlds through animation, we don’t really understand them at all.”
After receiving her master’s degree, Kofan got a job as an engineer in a studio that produces animated footage for news programs. Soon she began to wonder if there was a way to use computers to simulate and investigate real oceans. When a friend, who happened to be a biological oceanographer at the Institute of Oceanography, National Taiwan University (IONTU), mentioned that her research group needed a programmer to do ocean modeling, Kofan jumped at the opportunity.
By the time she took the job at IONTU, Kofan had already come under the spell of the Arctic. As a teenager she loved the movie “Ice Age” which, as it turned out, was also her first exposure to the animation of ice-covered regions. But after seeing the documentary “Beyond the Arctic,” which follows the adventures of a Taiwanese team competing in the 2008 Polar Challenge race, she was truly hooked, and knew she wanted to try living and studying in the Far North.
Kofan’s decision to pursue further training in Arctic research and ocean modeling led her to CFOS, a natural fit for her interests. She was accepted into the doctoral program and began her studies in spring 2014.
This past summer, Kofan was excited to be among the group of CFOS faculty and students who participated in the Chukchi Borderlands cruise aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy. The goal of this international research cruise was to learn more about the species and processes found in the transition region between the Chukchi Sea shelf and the Arctic Basin. Kofan assisted with CTD and mooring recovery and deployment in addition to processing and analyzing CTD data. But it wasn’t all work. “We saw polar bears, ribbon seals, and many fascinating ice-covered and underwater views,” says Kofan. “It was a wonderful experience.”
Recently Kofan had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for Mark Johnson’s Physical Oceanography class. “I love teaching and had been a TA in Taiwan, but only for large undergraduate classes,” she says. “To be a TA in a graduate class with less than 10 students is very different. I could have thorough discussions with the instructor and students, and not be simply grading homework. I got great feedback from the class, and I really appreciated the chance to work with Dr. Johnson and all the students.”
Life in Alaska is just as wonderful as Kofan expected it would be. “Here I can enjoy excellent views, work with awesome researchers without having to live in a crowded city, and do lots of outdoor activities such as kayaking and hiking—not to mention getting to see the aurora. Everything is great in Alaska.” She learned to snowboard two years ago and now, she says, “I’m addicted to it!”
But despite her love of Alaska and the Arctic, the call of home is strong. Before coming to UAF, Kofan spent several years teaching math and science to students from some of Taiwan’s aboriginal groups, and ultimately she would like to continue that work. “There are very limited education resources in the tribes and not many certificated teachers are willing to teach there,” Kofan says. “However, I found the people there are full of knowledge about nature inherited from their ancestors. I learned a lot from my students and their families and would like to reciprocate by returning to Taiwan and teaching again in the tribes.”
Before she returns home, Kofan plans to investigate post-graduate research opportunities in Japan so she can find out how scientists in Asia approach Arctic and climate change research. She also hopes to learn how the results of research in Japan might be applicable to Taiwan, since both are island countries with similar climate, geography and productive fisheries.
For now, though, Kofan is happy to be living her Alaskan dream and pursuing her Ph.D. at CFOS.
Staff Snapshot: Jennifer Elhard
Staff Snapshot: Jennifer Elhard
Top of Falls Creek Mine outside of Seward with daughter Renee
Jennifer Elhard has worked at the Seward Marine Center for nearly 15 years, and loves her job.
She started at SMC as an intern while studying business at the Alaska Vocational Technical Center. When a staff position came open, she immediately knew she wanted to apply. “I thought SMC was an amazing place to be,” Jennifer says. “The people were fun, down to earth and professional, and I felt welcomed and knew that I could fit in and do the job well.”
Jennifer started out as a receptionist, and worked her way up to her current position of Facility and Office Manager—a job she finds both challenging and rewarding. SMC is the hub and main operations office for the R/V Sikuliaq, and Jennifer gets great satisfaction in providing logistical and administrative assistance for the vessel.
Describing her daily tasks, Jennifer says “I get the crew to/from the ship, process their payroll, manage and keep the facility, and supervise our procurement coordinator. I am here to answer questions and do what is asked of me by anyone at SMC or CFOS, and I help our Marine Superintendent and Director with whatever he needs.” In addition to all this, she is temporarily covering HR and travel responsibilities for SMC.
As one of the internal safety management system auditors for the Sikuliaq, Jennifer also looks forward to making an annual visit to the vessel to conduct a safety audit and to see her colleagues onboard.
Jennifer’s philosophy at work is to smile and have fun. “I find that when you enjoy something you tend to be better at it. You want to make sure it succeeds.”
Born and raised in Seattle, Jennifer first came to Alaska during the late 1990s and has called Seward home since 2001. “Seward is a very cool community,” she says. “I love the focus on the arts here, and all the outdoor opportunities—hiking and running trails, snowmachining, wakeboarding, camping, boating, fishing—you name it, we do it!”
In her earlier years, Jennifer planned to be a police officer or chef. While life ended up taking her down a different path, she did go to culinary school for a year, and spent some time working in the restaurant and hospitality industry. She loves cooking for her family, especially trying out new recipes and figuring out how to tailor them for her family’s tastes.
Besides cooking, Jennifer enjoys gardening and spending time with her family, taking advantage of all the fun outdoor activities in and around Seward. But she’d prefer not to get too up close and personal with the ocean—despite where she works and lives, Jennifer admits “I hate being in the water where there are creatures that want to eat you or nibble on your feet!”
Faculty Focus: Franz Mueter
Faculty Focus: Franz Mueter
Franz rinsing down a bongo net for sampling zooplankton during a survey in the northern Chukchi Sea.
Franz and his wife Susan take a break from hiking the Routeburn Track in New Zealand.
Originally from Germany, Franz Mueter first came to UAF in 1988 for a one-year foreign studies program and fell in love with Alaska.
Soon after, Franz enrolled in the graduate program at the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences and by 1999 had earned master’s degrees in biological oceanography and biostatistics, and a doctoral degree in fisheries oceanography. After a post-doc at Simon Fraser University in Canada and several years working as a research scientist and consultant based mainly in Fairbanks, Franz moved to Juneau to accept a faculty position as a fishery biometrician with the CFOS Fisheries Division.
In his research Franz combines his quantitative skills with a focus on marine science and fisheries. His interests include modeling the effects of climate variability on the distribution, abundance, recruitment, and survival of fishes in subarctic and arctic waters, and how the results of that work can be applied to the management of fisheries resources in the face of climate change and other environmental challenges.
Franz’s research questions are driven by his interest in the large fluctuations that have been observed in fish populations and the environmentally driven changes that cause these variations. He says understanding these changes “helps us to better predict how many fish we can catch each year and still leave enough in the ocean to not jeopardize future catches or the health of the whole ecosystem.”
In one of his current projects, Franz is examining the early life history of Arctic cod, a key fish species in the Arctic that provides important food for other fishes, seabirds and mammals. “We observed very large numbers of small Arctic cod, spawned during the previous winter, on several of our surveys in the northeast Chukchi Sea and we are now using computer models to simulate the transport of the eggs and larvae of Arctic cod in the region,” he says. “This is an effort to find out where the eggs may be spawned (where did they come from?) and where the juvenile nursery areas are (where are they going?). Understanding the early life history of this species will help us better understand and prepare for the consequences of climate change on Alaska’s Arctic marine ecosystems.”
Another project he is leading is a collaborative effort with Japanese and Norwegian researchers to review and synthesize the impacts of climate change on the Pacific and Atlantic Arctic and on its fisheries resources. The project involves scientists as well as stakeholders from the fishing industry, fisheries management agencies and coastal communities. “We are working collaboratively to better understand the consequences of climate change for Arctic living resources and the opportunities and challenges this brings for people and agencies living and working in the Arctic,” Franz says. “The outcomes from the workshop will help managers and communities adapt to changing conditions.” [See news story on this project at web.sfos.uaf.edu/wordpress/news/?p=2012.]
In addition to his research, Franz loves working with students. “One of my major sources of enjoyment comes from helping individuals with their projects and seeing them understand and apply scientific and statistical principles in their own research,” he says. “I’m really inspired by the bright young students I get to work with on an almost daily basis.”
Growing up on a small farm in northern Germany instilled in Franz a curiosity about all things biological, while his interests in marine issues and the far North were inspired by thrilling tales of explorations in the uncharted waters of the Arctic. He’s lived in Alaska for nearly 30 years now and calls it his home of choice. “I love its wide-open spaces, the rugged mountains, and the incredible light,” he says. An avid outdoorsman, over the years Franz has enjoyed many adventures throughout the State and the Pacific Northwest.
Franz loves to travel outside of Alaska as well, and has been to many places around the globe including Nepal, Iceland, Japan, South Africa, Egypt, Thailand and New Zealand. He recently spent a sabbatical year in Tasmania, Australia where he worked with colleagues at the University of Tasmania and CSIRO in the city of Hobart.
But between trips to far-off lands Franz and his wife Susan are delighted to be based in Juneau, where they frequently explore the nearby trails, glaciers and mountains. And thanks to the acquisition of a small boat earlier this year, they have also begun to explore other parts of Southeast Alaska by boat and look forward to doing more, along with a little fishing.
Student Spotlight: Mark Nelson
Student Spotlight: Mark Nelson
Mark floating the upper Chena River with his trusty co-pilot, Tazlina
Collecting water samples on the lower Susitna River for strontium isotope analysis
CFOS master’s student Mark Nelson traces his love of nature and wildlife back to his childhood, and the many wonderful summers spent fishing and camping with his family.
Now a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Mark says that even as a youngster in Montana he wanted a career in the field. “During our outdoor adventures, any time I met an employee from Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or similar agency, I would use the opportunity to ask questions—things like ‘how did you get your job?,’ ‘what school did you go to?,’ and ‘what kind of degree do you have?’”
Mark’s first taste of Alaska came during a family vacation right after he graduated from high school. “The experience opened my eyes to the beauty and awe of this great state,” he recalls. “We rented a motorhome and visited Fairbanks, Valdez, and Homer. On that trip, I caught my first king salmon out of the Kasilof River and my first halibut near Homer. And everywhere we went the scenery was awesome.”
With memories of Alaska still dancing in his head, Mark began working on a bachelor’s degree in Fish and Wildlife Management at Montana State University in Bozeman. During his freshman year he came across a flier advertising a volunteer position in Alaska counting salmon for the USFWS, and jumped at the opportunity. “I was absolutely stoked to spend the entire summer working on a salmon weir, driving jet boats, and conducting hook and line sampling,” he says. “Who knew that could be ‘work’?!” Mark continued to work for USFWS during the summers while finishing his degree.
After graduating from MSU Mark accepted a fisheries technician position with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. His heart, however, was still in the Far North. “Before I left Alaska,” says Mark, “I met a wonderful woman who is now my wife. And eventually she lured me back!”
After relocating to Fairbanks, he was soon hired by the ADF&G Arctic Marine Mammal Program, where he has spent the last ten years working on projects that include harvest monitoring of ice seals, biomonitoring of ice seals, walrus, and beluga whales, satellite telemetry of a variety of species, and collecting traditional knowledge about marine species from subsistence hunters.
Mark always knew he wanted to go back to school for his master’s degree to help advance his professional career. But, he says, “I enjoyed my work too much to leave and pursue a degree full time. So I waited until an appropriate project was available through my ADF&G work that could also be used as a project for my degree.”
For his graduate research Mark is using stable isotope analysis to investigate ecological changes in the endangered population of beluga whales in Cook Inlet. “I am looking at bone and teeth from the last 50 years to determine if the whales are feeding in different locations or at different trophic levels,” he says. “I am interested in Cook Inlet beluga whales because they are so important to the people in the area and to the ecosystem as a whole. Understanding more about how their ecology has changed may help determine why the population remains at such a low level.”
Working full-time while pursuing a graduate degree has many challenges. Mark is grateful to his professors at UAF, who have been very accommodating, and especially to his graduate committee chair, Professor Matthew Wooller.
“Mark is a wonderful student to work with. He has been very willing to apply state-of-the-art techniques to better understand beluga ecology, including analyzing strontium isotopes in the beluga teeth to track past movement patterns” says Wooller. “It is such a pleasure working with students from agencies like ADF&G as they come with great projects and access to amazing specimens to support their research ideas.”
Mark’s supervisor at ADF&G, Lori Quakenbush, has also been very supportive during this period. "Mark's work at ADF&G is demanding and includes travel and field work, but he is doing a great job of handling work and school,” Quakenbush says. “It is a great opportunity for Mark to get his master's degree and for us to learn more about Cook Inlet beluga whales."
Even though Mark has a lot on his plate, he loves to be outside and manages to find time for a variety of outdoor activities year round—floating, skiing, skijoring, fishing, hunting, and hiking. He has volunteered at the Yukon Quest as a dog handler, and as an instructor for ADF&G’s Becoming an Outdoors-Woman workshops and The Folk School Fairbanks, teaching field dressing and meat processing classes.
Mark also enjoys brewing beer—good beer. His Russian Imperial Stout won third place in the stout category of the E.T. Barnette Homebrew Competition in Fairbanks and his pale ale took first place in the ale category at the Valdez Oktoberfest & Homebrew Competition. He has also gotten involved with judging homebrew competitions, which he says is much more difficult than one might assume. “Everyone thinks you just sit back with a few glasses of beer, but you really have to study each category and judge the beer based on how it fits the style. Every style of beer is judged by 5 categories—aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, and overall impression,” Mark explains. “Yes, it is hard work, but somebody has to do it!”
Faculty Spotlight: Seth Danielson
Faculty Spotlight: Seth Danielson
Left – Seth prepares for the deployment of a conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) transect and satellite-tracked drifter in Kotzebue Sound.
Right – Seth relaxes with his banjo onboard the R/V Sikuliaq during the first leg of the ice trials cruise.
Seth Danielson is a bit of a Renaissance man, whose heart and soul belong to Alaska.
Following his childhood in Connecticut, Seth attended Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he earned an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering with a minor in music. He was first drawn to Alaska in the summer of 1989 to visit his sister, who was living in Whittier. He found work with a local fisherman doing boat repair and then longline fishing for sablefish.
After a second trip to Alaska in 1990, Seth returned to Pennsylvania and worked at a factory that manufactured electronic musical instruments, where he designed amplifiers and mixing boards for church and theater organs. It was a great job that neatly combined both elements of his undergraduate work, but Seth wasn’t quite ready to put down roots—and Alaska had gotten into his blood.
In 1993 Seth packed his truck and moved to Fairbanks, where he found a job as a hot-water ice driller with the National Science Foundation’s Polar Ice Coring Office. Seth enjoyed his work with PICO, which took him to adventurous and remote locations such as South Pole station in Antarctica and the Summit Camp in Greenland, but he soon realized that while providing technical support to scientific research was fun, he wanted to learn more about the research itself.
Seth applied to graduate school at UAF, and from 1994 to 1996 worked on an M.S. in oceanography, studying the tides and currents of the Chukchi Sea. He then spent a decade working full-time as a technician, programmer and analyst for the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences before embarking on a doctoral degree.
In 2013, the year after he was awarded his Ph.D. from UAF, Seth was hired by CFOS as a Research Assistant Professor of Oceanography. He was recently promoted to Research Associate Professor.
Seth explains that his goal as a researcher—in a nutshell—is to better understand the factors that regulate the temperatures, salinities and ocean currents in the waters that surround Alaska.
Some of his ongoing projects use supercomputer-based numerical models to “hindcast” ocean temperatures, salinities, and currents, through an approach Seth says is similar to how weather models are used to forecast atmospheric temperatures and winds. “These computations inform oil spill risk assessments in the federal process for permitting offshore oil and gas development activities,” he says. “The same models can be used to forecast tides and storm surges and guide search and rescue missions, contaminant spill response efforts, and studies that seek to understand the processes by which ocean currents disperse fish and crab eggs and larvae.”
Seth is also involved in several projects that make long-term measurements. One is a 46-year time series of monthly ocean temperatures and salinities in the coastal Gulf of Alaska at a site called oceanographic station GAK-1 (www.ims.uaf.edu/gak1/). A relatively new project monitors the arctic marine ecosystem and processes in the Chukchi Sea (http://mather.sfos.uaf.edu/~seth/CEO/).
“We live in a time of dramatic environmental changes,” Seth says. “Change usually occurs incrementally over months and years, and small changes in the freshwater cycle or oceanic heat content can have large impacts on the marine ecosystem. If we are to understand the biological ramifications of climatic changes—including ramifications for fisheries—we need to make regular, systematic observations of the ocean’s physical and chemical environment.”
Music is still a very important part of Seth’s life and helps provide a balance to the long hours he spends at work. He is an avid clawhammer banjo player and a founding member of the folk music and contradance band Ice Jam, which has been hosting a weekly open jam session at a local Fairbanks coffeehouse for nearly 20 years. Music is a family affair for the Danielsons, and at many Fairbanks Folk Fest events Seth’s bass- and fiddle-playing daughters join him on stage as DFB, the Danielson Family Band.
Seth and his family live off the grid in a self-designed and self-built house. All electricity is generated on site, with about 98% coming from wind, 1% from two 20-year-old solar panels and another 1% from a backup gas-powered generator. “The quirks of such a home are many, but we get a lot of satisfaction from the challenges of learning how to make it all work and keep running,” he says.
Seth also gets a lot of satisfaction from his work at CFOS. “I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to use my time to develop new knowledge about our world. Being able to play a role in all facets of the research is incredibly satisfying. I get to work with electronic instrumentation, go to remote places that few people ever get to see, write computer programs to analyze the data, synthesize the results of a study into research papers, and use the proposal-writing process to dream up future projects that will provide new insights and take us to new levels of understanding.”
Student Spotlight: Casey McConnell
Student Spotlight: Casey McConnell
Left: Casey gets up close and personal with a chum salmon that returned to Salmon Creek at the DIPAC hatchery in Juneau. Photo by Peter Westley.
Right: The one that got away with the herring and missed the hook...somehow! Photo by Peter Westley.
For graduate student Casey McConnell, the lure of fish and fishing is irresistible. Growing up in Alaska, Casey spent part of his childhood in Hoonah, a small community on Chichagof Island about 30 miles west of Juneau, known for its
beautiful coastal setting and excellent fishing. Casey says he took every opportunity he could to go sport fishing in Hoonah, “mostly for salmon, halibut and trout—but I welcomed whatever would bite.” As a teenager he participated in several of the region’s commercial fisheries.
Casey is currently pursing a master’s degree in Fisheries at the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences (CFOS). He earned his bachelor’s degree in Fisheries from UAF in 2011. Despite his love of fish and fishing, he originally started in a different undergraduate degree program—but quickly realized “it was not for me, or I was not for it!” A longtime university employee and family friend recommended he give Fisheries a try, and Casey was hooked.
After graduation, while Casey was working at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) in Juneau as a lab technician, a friend and former Fisheries graduate student sent him the call for proposals for the Ladd Macaulay Graduate Fellowship. The fellowship is sponsored by Douglas Island Pink and Chum, Inc. (DIPAC), a private nonprofit corporation whose goal is to sustain, enhance, and promote public understanding of Alaska’s salmon resources.
Feeling it was too good an opportunity to pass up, Casey worked with his boss at ADF&G and with CFOS assistant professor Megan McPhee, now one of his graduate co-advisors, to develop a project, and successfully applied for the fellowship.
Casey’s thesis research deals with stray hatchery chum salmon—hatchery-raised salmon that don’t return to the hatchery or release location, and wander into wild streams. “I think most Alaskans are concerned with the health of fish stocks in some way or another, and having lived in Southeast Alaska and spent time commercial fishing and sport fishing, I am no different,” Casey says. “Research that combines salmon and ecology, and is tied to management, is a great fit for me.”
Hatchery-origin salmon have been documented in wild streams throughout the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, but many questions still remain regarding interactions between populations. Casey’s research focuses on questions such as
what causes hatchery fish to stray into some rivers more than others, could their level of straying be reduced, and what impacts hatchery strays are having on wild fish. He says, “I’ve spent some time in the field, time in the lab, and time in front of a computer getting at each of those questions. Hopefully the results will help us understand the consequences of hatchery straying on wild populations and help balance thriving wild stocks with the thriving salmon fisheries that hatchery salmon help support." CFOS assistant professor Peter Westley, Casey’s other co-advisor, says, “I'm incredibly proud of Casey and the work he is doing, which is truly giving new insights into the very pressing issue of interactions between hatchery and wild salmon on the spawning grounds.”
Like many Fisheries students, Casey’s interest in the subject runs deep. “I have an addiction to fly fishing, which is par for the course for fisheries students,” he says. “I’m also addicted to hunting, hiking, exploring, videography, and traveling outside Alaska—mostly to do one or more of those activities.” Casey also has a commercial captain’s license. “I used to captain huge whale watch boats here in Juneau,” he says. “And I’ve participated in all the fish and crab fisheries
that take place in Southeast Alaska. Both were fun and fulfilling; maybe I will get to do them again someday.” Living in Juneau suits Casey just fine. “I like the fact that it’s not crowded, and there are tons of opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy the scenery,” he says. “And the lack of 40 below weather is a big bonus!”
After graduation, Casey would like to continue participating in fisheries research in Alaska. “I enjoy the place and the people, and of course the subjects. If I could live and work in Alaska my whole life, I’d be pretty happy.”
Faculty Focus: Sarah Hardy
Faculty Focus: Sarah Hardy
Left: Kayaking the Nenana River
Right: Posing with penguins in Antarctica
When she arrived at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) in 2007 as an International Polar Year (IPY) postdoctoral fellow, Sarah Hardy didn’t expect to stay long. But almost immediately she felt a connection with the friendly, down-to-earth folks she encountered in Fairbanks and soon began to feel at home.
A couple of years later, the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences (CFOS) advertised an assistant professor position, and Sarah applied and was hired. Now an associate professor with CFOS, Sarah is the new head of the Graduate Program in Marine Science and Limnology—and is looking forward to the challenge.
“As I see it, my main job is to be a resource for students, and do what I can to help them succeed,” she says. “Working on a graduate degree is challenging—and every student’s situation is different, depending on the nature of their project, the specifics of their funding, the personalities they are working with on their committee, and their own career trajectory. I look forward to getting to know the students and helping them navigate through this process.”
The ocean has been a steady influence in Sarah’s life. She grew up in San Diego, attended the University of California, Santa Cruz, for her B.S. in Marine Biology, and went to San Francisco State for her M.S., also in Marine Biology. Then the tropics beckoned, and she moved to Honolulu to pursue a Ph.D. in Oceanography at the University of Hawai'i. Always a big water sports fan, Sarah got very involved in competitive outrigger canoeing as part of a racing club, and was also active in solo ocean kayak (or “surfski”) long-distance racing in the off season.
As a child, Sarah didn’t exactly dream of becoming a scientist, but she’s been interested in marine animals for as long as she can remember. Growing up on the coast of southern California definitely helped. “One experience that I think influenced me at a young age was when my class in probably 4th or 5th grade would go out on a boat for a day trip, and they had us do all sorts of marine sampling, like towing a plankton net and looking at what we found,” Sarah recalls. “But I don’t think it really occurred to me that marine biology could be a job until I took a community college course before starting at Santa Cruz. Up until then I hadn’t really been sure what I wanted to do.”
Sarah’s field is benthic ecology, and much of her attention has been focused on the ecological systems found in soft sediments of the Arctic sea floor. She’s curious about how these systems function and wants to understand what drives the spatial patterns that are seen in their community structure and diversity.
Among Sarah’s currently funded projects is one in which she and co-PI (and fellow CFOS faculty member) Eric Collins are looking at bacterial communities in sediments, using genetic tools to investigate how those communities vary over large areas of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. “Only a handful of studies have reported on sediment bacterial communities from the Arctic, yet bacteria play a crucial role in the ecosystem,” says Sarah. On a basic level, bacteria transform and degrade organic matter, and are also food for other organisms. Beyond that, Sarah says, “Bacteria, particularly in sediments, are really interesting because while most animals use aerobic metabolism to burn organic matter to produce energy, bacteria can use a lot of other types of metabolism unique to different bacterial groups.” Bacteria also live in the digestive systems of other organisms (the “microbiome”), and very little is known about the species composition and role of gut bacteria in the biology of marine invertebrates, particularly in the Arctic. Sarah says that some gut bacteria may even produce essential nutrients for their host organisms.
A related project uses genetic tools to examine meiofaunal communities. Meiofauna are the smallest microscopic animals living in sediments (<~63 mm), and they too are poorly studied in the Arctic. Sarah says that because they tend to have limited ability to move around, and have relatively short life cycles with rapid reproduction, they are great indicators of change as well as environmental disturbance. “They reflect large-scale patterns in the environment, yet community structure tends to stay fairly constant over shorter seasonal time scales. This is useful in the high latitudes, where strong seasonal variability can make it harder to detect longer-term changes in the environment.”
As part of her research, Sarah spends a lot of time learning new techniques and new skills, including cutting-edge techniques for genetic work. “This is such a hot area right now, and I have a couple of projects funded that are collaborations with people who specialize in this field, using ‘next generation’ sequencing technology,” she says. “We can now extract DNA from a whole community of organisms, such as might be found in a sediment sample, and identify all of the organisms present much more quickly and easily than painstakingly sorting material under a microscope and trying to identify each individual.”
As a dedicated researcher, teacher, and mentor, and the mother of an active 18-month-old son, Sarah doesn’t have a lot of spare time. “The biggest challenge I face daily is finding the time to get it all done!”
Despite the time crunch, Sarah and her husband—also a water sports enthusiast—enjoy kayaking and canoeing on the river during the summer months. In the winter they try get outdoors as much as possible, even if it’s just for a quick ski or to enjoy a quiet walk in the woods close to town.
And while she enjoys the travel associated with her research, and working with collaborators from all over the world, after more than eight years Sarah still loves the sense of community and neighborliness she’s found at UAF and Fairbanks.
Student Spotlight: Alex Ravelo
Student Spotlight: Alex Ravelo
Left: Alex Ravelo and Katrin Iken sort marine invertebrates from a trawl catch in the Beaufort Sea.
Right: Alex prepares to take students from the scientific diving class out for a dive in Kasitsna Bay.
Alexandra (Alex) Ravelo has wanted to be a scientist for as long as she can remember. She says her parents, who are researchers in the fields of agricultural botany and climate, were a big influence, and from an early age they taught her to love nature and to never stop asking questions.
Alex, a Ph.D. candidate in Marine Sciences at the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences (CFOS), was born in Missouri while her parents were working on their doctoral degrees, but grew up in Córdoba, Argentina, where her family is from. As a child, Alex explored the diverse region around Córdoba with her family, getting to know the different landscapes and ecosystems. In college at the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, where she did her undergraduate thesis project on spiders and silk morphology, she continued her adventures, hitchhiking around and camping with her friends.
After college, Alex traveled around Brazil, volunteering with different research projects as she tried to figure out what area of biology she was most interested in. She found herself drawn to community ecology while assisting with a study on songbird habitats, and fell in love with marine invertebrates and coastal ecosystems during a project on rocky intertidal communities.
At that point Alex started looking for jobs in marine biology that would allow her to continue to travel and explore new places. The quest led her to Alaska and work as a fishery observer for the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service. “Traveling to Alaska, getting to visit remote fishing ports, working at sea on commercial fishing boats and collecting data to help manage a natural resource in a sustainable way were the parts of the job description that convinced me,” she says.
After several years Alex realized she wanted to get more directly involved in the science—beyond just data collection—and started to think about graduate school. She says she found her advisor, CFOS professor Brenda Konar, “through an abstract book I had picked up at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium while passing through Anchorage in between fishing boats.” Alex began working with Brenda as a master’s student but after two years she decided to switch to a Ph.D.
“I’ve been very fortunate to work with Brenda as my advisor. She has always given me full support to explore my own interests in outreach and collaborative research,” Alex says. “Thanks to Brenda, I’ve had the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant for the scientific diving class at UAF and help out in many diving projects, including out in the Aleutian Islands!”
Alex’s doctoral research focuses mainly on benthic macrofaunal invertebrate communities on the Alaska Arctic sea shelves. Besides describing community patterns, she looks at how the environment influences species distribution patterns, biomass abundance and diversity.
“The organisms I study don’t move that much once they settle on the seafloor, and many of them are long lived,” she says. “Every organism has a preferred range of temperature, food type, and seafloor type. So understanding ‘who lives where’ can tell us a lot about the environment they live in, and monitoring these communities over time can help us understand changes that may be occurring in the environment.”
Alex says she really likes working with benthic invertebrate communities “because there are so many different life history types living in one area that you can never get bored or run out of questions to ask.”
She is especially interested in answering questions related to brittle star population dynamics. Because brittle stars are particularly abundant and dominant organisms of benthic communities in the Arctic, Alex says that knowing how long they live, how fast they grow and how they accumulate biomass can “help to place an important piece in the puzzle of the energy flow of the Arctic system.”
Brenda Konar is very pleased to have Alex as part of her lab, and is proud of her many accomplishments. “I think she’s a fantastic student and has really taken ownership of her project,” Brenda says. “She is also great to have in the lab because of her commitment to outreach, and she often helps with and runs outreach events with my lab. She is a great example for grad students as I feel that she is making the most of her time at UAF—besides presenting and publishing her own research and doing outreach, she is always ready to help with other projects, and to assist her colleagues and fellow students.”
Alex is part of the development team for Girls on Water, an outreach program whose goal she describes as empowering young women to think critically and gain self-confidence through science and art activities while exploring the Alaska backcountry by foot and kayak. This program, set to have its first season in 2017, is part of the Inspiring Girls Network, which started with the Girls on Ice program (http://girlsonice.org) created by Erin Pettit of the UAF Geophysical Institute and Department of Geosciences, College of Natural Science and Mathematics.
Alex is excited to be part of the new program. “Through collaborating with an amazing group of women who are scientists, educators, artists and explorers, this has already been an incredibly enriching experience for me. I’m very proud to be a part of a program for young women that is designed and carried out by a women-only team.”
After completing her Ph.D., Alex hopes to continue with research in a way that allows her to be out in the field, collecting data and exploring habitats. In Alaska, of course!
Faculty Focus: Gabe Dunham
Faculty Focus: Gabe Dunham
Left: Gabe Dunham. Photo by Deborah Mercy.
Right: Gabe’s students in Unalaska learn how to inspect the water pump on an outboard motor. Photo by Melissa Good.
At first glance, Gabe Dunham’s background seems eclectic—an aptitude for mechanics, experience in commercial fishing, and college degrees in business and resource economics—but these diverse elements weave together to give Gabe a strong foundation in his position as a Marine Advisory Program (MAP) agent based in Dillingham.
MAP is the extension component of Alaska Sea Grant, which is located within the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at UAF, and MAP agents are CFOS faculty.
Alaska Sea Grant’s mission is to help Alaskans use marine and coastal resources wisely and sustainably. Gabe’s role in this mission is to provide outreach and technical assistance to the 30+ communities of the Bristol Bay region, which he says he does by “filling gaps between people and information resources” through workshops, public media, and short classes.
While in high school in the small Southeast Alaska community of Petersburg, Gabe did a little commercial fishing and worked at an outboard motor repair shop. After graduation he obtained an associate’s degree in Auto, Truck and Industrial Technology from a technical college in Arizona, then spent several years working in outboard shops in Alaska and California before traveling to Korea to teach English for a year. Coming home to Alaska and looking for a change, he decided to go back to school to learn about business.
To pay for his classes at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Gabe returned to commercial fishing, this time for salmon in Bristol Bay. As he observed other people involved in the fishery, Gabe says he found himself intrigued by “how individuals’ behavior changed in response to changes in fishing rules, abundance, and market prices.” After a few seasons, he enrolled in an undergraduate fisheries economics course, ultimately adding economics as a second major. From there he went on to earn a master’s degree in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics at the University of Rhode Island.
Having rounded out his academic and applied experience, Gabe wanted to learn more about the policy and government side of fishery resources, so he applied to the Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship through NOAA’s National Sea Grant Office. As a Knauss fellow, he worked in the National Sea Grant Office for a year as a coordinator for focus areas in seafood and ecosystems. As the fellowship was winding down he learned of the MAP agent position in Bristol Bay, applied for it, and has been employed with UAF since May of 2014.
In the rural coastal setting of Bristol Bay, Gabe’s knowledge of fishing and mechanics provides a great starting point for conversations with constituents and, he says, “gives me a leg up when it comes to program planning and implementation.”
Gabe has set three major goals for his program—one, that fish remain a sustainable and viable resource, contributing to economic sustainability in the region; two, that the regional economy supports individuals and provides opportunity for investment, and three, that Bristol Bay coastal, estuarine, and riverine ecosystems are healthy.
The first two goals are reflected in a successful program Gabe developed in marine maintenance and repair. In addition to a class on outboard engines, the program includes a workshop lecture on commercial vessel preseason maintenance. (The workshop is part of a collaboration with the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation called the Business of Fish, a collection of short classes and workshops focused on the business aspects of the fishing industry.) Gabe is adding a class on diesel engines this fall, and in 2016 students will be able to attend a series of classes and workshops to repair and retrofit a commercial fishing vessel.
The Nushagak Fish Waste Compost Project, which addresses fish waste generated from subsistence activity, fits under the third goal. Gabe says this project aims to use composting to decrease the amount of fish waste disposed of in the region’s landfills and watersheds, while at the same time providing a valuable soil amendment to an expanding regional population of food growers and gardeners.
Gabe is inspired by the people of Bristol Bay, and he says the region “is a testament to the tenacity of the people that live here to subsist from the land and water, to pursue economic opportunities presented by natural resources, and to cling to the culture and customs that help define this place.”
The landscape inspires him, too. Gabe has always loved the outdoors and enjoys getting out on the weekends to explore with his wife and their dogs. A lifelong Alaskan, he says Bristol Bay is “one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, both from the water and from the land. And here the wilderness is literally outside my back door.”
Gabe still enjoys tinkering and turning wrenches in his spare time, and says he can be found working on pretty much anything, “from antique sewing machines to road graders."
As a MAP agent, Gabe says he is motivated “by the intrinsic satisfaction that I get from connecting people to the information they need to make themselves better off. Witnessing the ‘Aha!’ moment when a person learns how to properly care for their boat during one of my outboard maintenance classes, or learns the right way to pack a jar of fish for canning during a seafood preservation workshop, is a great feeling.”
Undoubtedly, Gabe Dunham is the right person in the right job in the right place.
Student Spotlight: Jonathan Whitefield
Left: Jonathan cleaning an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler that was just recovered from the Bering Strait.
Right: Jonathan monitoring a CTD deployment in the Bering Strait
Like most graduate students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Jonathan Whitefield found his way here from somewhere else. And he’s seen quite a bit of the rest of the world as well, thanks to some words of wisdom from his father, who told him “you won’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket!” Jonathan says that advice has encouraged him to “take risks on things, especially on the jobs that I have applied for, and it has paid off, landing me in several amazing locations all around the world.”
Jonathan, a master’s student in oceanography working with Dr. Peter Winsor, is originally from England. He grew up in the middle of the country, in a place “about as far from the sea as you can get.” Marine science captured Jonathan’s interest in 6th grade when he did a project on Robert Ballard, the oceanographer who’s perhaps most famous for discovering the wreck of the Titanic.
After earning an undergraduate degree relatively close to home, from a college in northern Wales, Jonathan journeyed to the southern hemisphere for a master’s degree at the University of Otago in New Zealand, then worked in various positions in Bermuda, Brazil and Maine. It was while they were in Maine that Jonathan’s wife, Charlotte, decided she wanted to pursue a PhD, and Jonathan decided he would go back to school too. Not long before, he had been on a research cruise in the Bering Sea where many of his shipmates were from UAF, and it seemed like a good place to check out. He and Charlotte liked what they saw and embarked on their graduate programs at CFOS in fall 2010.
Jonathan really appreciates the small-town feel of Fairbanks and the close-knit sense of community, and even its remoteness. He compares it to the small Welsh college town of Bangor where he got his undergraduate degree. “There, it was possible to drive for only 10 or 15 minutes and be in the mountains. Here, drive for an hour or so and you are in the same kind of isolation, where you are the only person for miles.” Plus, “Alaska is really photogenic, and I love taking photos, so that works well too.”
At UAF, Jonathan’s research has focused on how to more accurately represent in computer climate models the amount and timing of heat that rivers contribute to the Arctic Ocean. It’s a topic he came to by chance: “Not long after arriving at UAF I was sent out to work on a cruise in the Bering Strait, and helped with recovering and redeploying several instrument moorings. I learned that due to the risk of damage from sea ice, the moorings didn’t sample the surface waters, so I worked with my advisor and a computer model to try to fill in the gaps of the ‘missing’ data.”
While learning how to use the model, Jonathan discovered that it didn’t take into account how warm the rivers were during the summer, and thus was missing a large amount of heat input to the Arctic. “I then rewrote my research plan to work on adding this heat to the modeled Arctic, and then to revisit my original question of addressing how much heat and freshwater is missed by the current mooring setup in the Bering Strait.”
Some key results are described in a recent paper, A new river discharge and river temperature climatology data set for the pan-Arctic region (J. Whitefield, P. Winsor, J. McClelland and D. Menemenlis, 2015, Ocean Modelling, 88:1–15).
Not only is this work important to climate researchers as they continue their quest for a more complete understanding of global climate variations, but for the National Weather Service there’s an immediate and very practical impact.
Rick Thoman, Climate Science and Services Manager in the Environmental and Scientific Services Division of the National Weather Service Alaska Region, says that increased national and international attention in the Arctic has intensified NOAA's need to understand and predict the seasonal evolution of sea ice. Rick says Jonathan's work shows the importance of river discharge to the nearshore ocean environment and “materially improves our forecasting efforts."
While much of Jonathan’s research requires sitting at a computer, an interest in rugby helps keep him physically active and provides a welcome change of scenery and focus. In summer 2014 Jonathan became a qualified rugby referee, and has officiated in several tournaments across the state. One of his most memorable matches included some former players from New Zealand’s national team.
Jonathan has already seen a lot of the world, but yearns to see (and photograph) more. “I’d love to go on safari in Africa, land on the Antarctic mainland, and visit historical and cultural sites in places such as Istanbul and Nepal.” Accomplishing the first two of these goals would mean achieving a larger one: having traveled to each of the seven continents.
Once he has his UAF degree in hand, Jonathan says his career goals are pretty simple. “I want to be able to find a position that allows me to keep up with my main marine science interest—going to sea, deploying and recovering instruments, and getting my hands wet in the name of science!”
Faculty Focus: Tuula Hollmen
Faculty Focus: Tuula Hollmen
Left: On the Chukchi Sea coast, knitting brows thinking about the erosion rock wall
Right: Tuula relaxing with her old Gibson
It’s no surprise that Tuula Hollmen, a marine ecologist with a soft spot for eiders and other marine birds, does what she does—and loves it. Originally from Finland, Tuula says her family’s summer house was on an island in the Baltic Sea, and that as a child she was always playing in the water, counting things and observing what animals were doing. “I think I learned to say the word ‘eider’ before I learned ‘bird.’ I wanted to understand how things worked, and it kind of all grew from there. I don’t remember ever really thinking about any other careers.”
A research associate professor at the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), Tuula is based in Seward at the Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC), where until very recently she served as science director. She and two other faculty colleagues (Russ Andrews and Lori Polasek) have their offices and labs at the ASLC through an agreement with UAF. Tuula earned a doctor of veterinary medicine degree and a PhD in physiological ecology from the University of Helsinki, Finland, and has lived in the UK, Spain, Central America, Hawaii and the Midwest (“the only time I lived far from any ocean shore”) before settling in Alaska.
Tuula first came to Alaska about 15 years ago to work with eiders in the high Arctic, and her fate was sealed. Less than two years later she was hired by UAF and moved to Seward. “It’s a great place to live—on the ocean with amazing natural beauty, great people, and the University and Alaska SeaLife Center, all right there. And I like the weather!”
Tuula has worked with seabirds in three oceans—the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic—and has long been interested in ways that individuals, populations and communities respond and adapt to environmental and ecological change. Her work in Alaska has involved development of biochemical tracers to understand trophic ecology and the role of seabirds in food webs, estimation of vital rates (such as productivity and survival) and environmental drivers influencing those rates, understanding population level effects of contaminants and disease, and development of new tagging techniques to study movement and distribution of seabirds. She also has interest in applied conservation biology, such as helping develop novel reintroduction methods to recover threatened eider populations in Alaska.
About 10 years ago Tuula began exploring how decision analysis can be used to address some critical issues confronting Alaska’s coastal communities and natural resource managers. She notes that throughout the Arctic, local communities are faced with challenging choices, as they find themselves needing to cope with uncertainties related to impacts of climate change while balancing the potential benefits of development with potential impacts on the subsistence way of life. Currently, in a project funded by the National Science Foundation, she and her colleagues are applying structured decision analysis tools in Alaska coastal communities to develop local visions for sustainability in the changing Arctic.
“Stewardship of the natural environment and human cultures in face of rapid and large-scale environmental change will require people to work together to solve challenges. To do that, we need tools to communicate our values and solutions in a common language, and we need ways to bring local and scientific knowledge into decision-making. My co-investigators and I are developing a framework of methods that we hope will help do just that,” says Tuula.
Tuula is quick to note that she’s been very lucky to work with “many fantastic people” in her career. In addition to her coworkers and students at ASLC and UAF, four colleagues in particular have provided inspiration and encouragement along the way. “Jim Nichols (USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center) has greatly inspired me to strive to make my work relevant to natural resource management, and has given me great perspective, insight, and support on that path through the years,” said Tuula. She credits Martti Hario (Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute), with whom she worked for 10 summer seasons at a remote field station in the Baltic Sea, for teaching her a lot about seabird ecology. Dirk Derksen (USGS Alaska Science Center) offered her the opportunity to first work in Alaska, and has been a collaborator and fly-fishing friend ever since. And of Pat Tester (NOAA National Ocean Service), Tuula says “her enthusiasm is really inspiring!”
Tuula’s own enthusiasm is unmistakable, and it extends beyond her research to encompass a wide variety of interests that keep her busy. Besides fly-fishing (“I got hooked when I was about 10 years old, fishing with my Dad”), she loves to hang out with her nieces and nephews, ride her fatbike and 29er (mountain bike), practice yoga, and explore the great outdoors of Alaska. She’s climbed most peaks around Resurrection Bay, and is now learning to unicycle and skateboard. She also plays guitar and loves to make music with friends (“jam at our house every Monday!”).
Bucket list? “Yes, I have one and it is pretty full of ideas!”
Student Spotlight: Jane Sullivan
Left: Jane and her dog, Sadie, at the Mendenhall wetlands in Juneau.
Right: A young Jane and her dad admire the day’s catch.
Juneau graduate student Jane Sullivan feels like a detective, sifting through clues, looking for patterns, and following up on leads to what her major advisor, Dr. Gordon Kruse, describes as “one of the most interesting and perplexing ongoing mysteries in Alaska's fisheries.” Trying to unravel the causes behind a steep decline in average halibut size observed over the last three decades is a natural fit for Jane, whose geologist father instilled in his young daughter his own twin passions for science and fishing, and whose mother, also a professional geologist, has been “a huge role model as a successful woman in science.”
Jane observes that a 20-year-old female halibut weighed 120 lbs. on average in the 1980s, while in 2014 the average was less than 45 lbs. “So far we have found strong links between halibut size and competition between halibut and other fish species like arrowtooth flounder, competition between halibut and other halibut, environmental factors like ocean temperature, as well as potential impacts from fishing.”
Jane began work on her master’s degree in 2013, but the issue of declining halibut size caught her attention long before she entered graduate school. “I have been following the halibut case for nearly a decade in the media and on the docks. Declines in halibut size have serious impacts on Alaskan fishermen, like reductions in fishing quotas, tighter restrictions on sport fishermen, and heightened concerns over bycatch of halibut in other fisheries around the state.”
And now that she is in the thick of the effort to unravel the mystery, a personal commitment to friends and acquaintances who rely on halibut fishing to make a living helps keeps Jane focused on the problem. “Thinking of them keeps me working at my computer on hot summer days!”
Kruse says the ultimate goal of this exciting research is to “incorporate an integrated growth model, which explains most variability in size at age, directly into stock assessment and management of the Pacific halibut fishery.” In other words, knowing what’s affecting halibut size will help fisheries managers determine the number of fish that can be caught each year.
Besides the research that means so much to her, Jane says a highlight of her time at UAF has been Dr. Anne Beaudreau’s course in Communicating Science. “Scientists are notorious for building walls of jargon, technical details, and caveats around themselves. This course gave me the tools to break down those walls and the confidence to talk about my research to a broader audience.” Kruse says Jane now actively pursues outreach opportunities, often giving public presentations at local venues and participating in an annual science night with children and their families at a Juneau elementary school.
After growing up in several different states in the Lower 48, Jane moved to Alaska after high school in search of adventure. She loves Juneau for the year-round outdoor recreation and diverse community, and for the many friends she’s made.
Sport fishing, hiking and skiing with her dog, cycling, and gardening are among Jane’s nonacademic interests. “But needless to say, since I’ve started studying halibut, I don’t have as much time to catch them as I used to!” She does, however, hope to participate in the Fireweed 400 (a long-distance bicycle road race in southcentral Alaska) in 2016.
Kruse describes his student as “bright, enthusiastic, and very productive” and notes that Jane is currently the president of the Juneau Student Unit of the Alaska Chapter, American Fisheries Society, and the Student Representative to the Executive Committee of the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society, “a prestigious honor and big responsibility.”
Jane’s career goals include working as a biometrician or fish biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game or NOAA.
Jane Sullivan is a master’s candidate in Fisheries at the Juneau Center of the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Her halibut work is part of a collaborative project with researchers from the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) and the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC).