University of Alaska Fairbanks
Title: Long-term environmental studies and stewardship in Alaska: A case study from Port Valdez
Arny L Blanchard is a Benthic Ecologist and Biostatistician with the Institute of Marine Science, University of Alaska Fairbanks and is involved in marine studies throughout Alaska’s waters from Prince William Sound to the Beaufort Sea. His research is focused on the spatial and temporal changes of marine communities and assessment of human disturbance in the environment. He currently manages the Port Valdez Environmental Studies Program and the benthic component of the Chukchi Sea Environmental Studies Program in northeastern Chukchi Sea and contributes to the Alaska Monitoring and Assessment Program.
Environmental studies are increasingly important in understanding and predicting human effects in rapidly changing marine environments. Long-term studies provide the means to understand temporal changes and key influences on marine ecosystems. In Alaska, a number of environmental studies are providing information on ecosystem status and trends over varying time scales. Programs are currently investigating marine communities in Alaska’s coastal waters for state-wide monitoring (2007 to present), in the northeastern Chukchi Sea (2008 to present) to document background trends, and in Port Valdez Alaska, where discharges have been monitored for over 40 years (1971 to present). Synthesis of results from the three environmental programs is providing new insights into scales of change. The greatest changes were observed in Port Valdez, a glacial fjord in Alaska, where sediment-dwelling organisms (benthic fauna) were sampled from 1971 to 2012, with human activities contributing to small-scale and ecosystem-level changes in the fjord. Effects on benthic fauna in Port Valdez from a large, 9.2-mangitude earthquake in 1964 and deposition of glacial sediments, appear to have been the largest influences on faunal communities in the fjord. Recovery from the earthquake was evident in the shifts over time of fauna as they recolonized sediments of the fjord. Increased nutrients from adult hatchery salmon carcasses appear to indirectly enhance benthic communities in the basin of the fjord. Biological effects of discharges of ground fish wastes from a fish processing plant and treated ballast waters at the marine oil terminal (1989-2007) as well as dumping of dredged sediments were very limited (< 1 km) although the interactions and indirect effects of multiple stressors were larger. Overall, indirect effects and interactions may be of greater concern to marine fauna in Alaska’s seas as human activities interact with climatic variations and increased stress.
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