Sparse ice: Geophysical, biological and Indigenous knowledge perspectives on a habitat for ice-associated fauna

Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Olivia Astillero Lee, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Geophysical Institute, Fairbanks, AK, United States, Hajo Eicken, University of Alaska Fairbanks, International Arctic Research Center, Fairbanks, AK, United States, Winton Weyapuk Jr., Community of Wales, Wales, AK, United States, Billy Adams, North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, Barrow, AK, United States and Andrew R Mahoney, Geophysical Institute, Fairbanks, AK, United States
The significance of highly dispersed, remnant Arctic sea ice as a platform for marine mammals and indigenous hunters in spring and summer may have increased disproportionately with changes in the ice cover. As dispersed remnant ice becomes more common in the future it will be increasingly important to understand its ecological role for upper trophic levels such as marine mammals and its role for supporting primary productivity of ice-associated algae. Potential sparse ice habitat at sea ice concentrations below 15% is difficult to detect using remote sensing data alone. A combination of high resolution satellite imagery (including Synthetic Aperture Radar), data from the Barrow sea ice radar, and local observations from indigenous sea ice experts was used to detect sparse sea ice in the Alaska Arctic. Traditional knowledge on sea ice use by marine mammals was used to delimit the scales where sparse ice could still be used as habitat for seals and walrus. Potential sparse ice habitat was quantified with respect to overall spatial extent, size of ice floes, and density of floes. Sparse ice persistence offshore did not prevent the occurrence of large coastal walrus haul outs, but the lack of sparse ice and early sea ice retreat coincided with local observations of ringed seal pup mortality. Observations from indigenous hunters will continue to be an important source of information for validating remote sensing detections of sparse ice, and improving understanding of marine mammal adaptations to sea ice change.