Sub-Regional Sea Ice Preferences of Pacific Walrus in the Bering Sea Using SAR Data

Monday, 15 December 2014
Alexander Sacco1, Andrew R Mahoney1, Hajo Eicken1, Mark A Johnson2 and Carleton Ray3, (1)University of Alaska Fairbanks, Geophysical Institute, Fairbanks, AK, United States, (2)University of Alaska Fairbanks, Institute of Marine Sciences, Fairbanks, AK, United States, (3)University of Virginia Main Campus, Environmental Sciences, Charlottesville, VA, United States
The Pacific walrus (O. r. divergens) uses winter sea ice in the Bering Sea for numerous parts of its natural history including courtship, foraging, and migration. Recent and predicted loss of sea ice has caused the Pacific walrus to be considered for an elevated status under the Endangered Species Act. Study of the ice conditions during this period is required to investigate changes in the Bering Sea ice pack and its effects on walrus sustainability. Using Radarsat-1 data and second-order texture statistics, a classification system was devised to separate sea ice into three distinguishable classes based on walrus needs of open water availability in the pack ice: discontinuous pack ice, continuous pack ice, and open water. Classifications are performed on sub-regional image areas to facilitate classification of heterogeneous seascapes which are thought to be distinguishable by walrus. Spatial, as well as temporal, changes in the seascape cover, based on the classification, are achieved. These results are then combined with ship-based observations of walrus to quantify walrus habitat preference. The three-class algorithm has a success rate of 94% for the discontinuous ice and continuous pack ice. Radarsat-1 images from 2004 – 2008 were analyzed for changes in seasonal and annual discontinuous ice extent. After classification, the spatial extent of discontinuous ice was found to vary throughout 2004 – 2008 in the Bering Sea shelf. Walrus are also shown to prefer discontinuous pack far from the southernmost ice edge. Maps of walrus habitat preference and persistent areas of sea ice seascapes are created and then can be used for the walrus’ status consideration under the Endangered Species Act in addition to general species management issues.