Kayak oceanography as a vehicle for exploring high latitude processes and coupled human-natural systems in Southeast Alaska

Mattias Rolf Cape1, Hallie C. Heath2, Michael Navarro3 and Glenn Wright3, (1)University of Washington Seattle Campus, School of Oceanography, Seattle, CA, United States, (2)Big Sur Charter School, Monterey, CA, United States, (3)University of Alaska Southeast, Juneau, United States
Southeast Alaska features a rich natural environment undergoing rapid evolution as a result of climate change, manifested in the rapid warming of the atmosphere and coastal ocean coupled to the retreat of land and marine-terminating glaciers. These environmental changes, representative of processes ongoing in higher latitude Arctic and Antarctic regions, are projected to have significant impacts on marine ecosystems as well as coastal communities who rely on the marine environment for subsistence and commerce, including transportation, tourism, and resource extractions. A better understanding of how environmental changes are affecting Southeast Alaska, grounded in observations and linked to thoughtful exchanges with resident communities, are ultimately necessary to better constrain future trajectories for the coupled human-natural system. In this presentation we detail the University of Alaska Southeast’s pilot 2019 Kayak Oceanography course, a two-week interdisciplinary summer program integrating themes in sustainability, physics, chemistry, biology, and science communication. Weaving wilderness travel via kayak, expedition planning, observational oceanography via instrument deployment, and social sciences, the course exposed participants to the Alaska coastal marine environment, focusing on impacts of ice-ocean interactions on marine ecosystems, while providing a forum for discussion of links between environmental change and human existence in the students’ regional backyard. The course was also designed to meet needs of the SE Alaskan communities, with kayaks providing a rapid and inexpensive method for study of unusual oceanographic events to gather data on vital nearshore fishery nursery systems. Along with details on the course and preliminary scientific results, we’ll reflect on future directions grounded in student assessments and instructor feedback.