The University of Alaska Fairbanks’ state-of-the-art research vessel Sikuliaq is already proving its worth. The vessel recently completed a 20-day research excursion in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas gathering valuable information about marine life and changes in the Arctic. Aboard the vessel were a host of scientists and graduate students, with good representation from UAF’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.
The Sikuliaq, completed in 2014, is just coming into its own as a full-fledged research vessel. Its name means “young sea ice” in Iñupiaq, and some of the research performed on the most recent tour of duty was on that very topic. Some of the researchers on board were investigating the effects of climate-based diminishment of sea ice cover. It’s a topic that has particular importance for some of Alaska’s most famous species of what scientists refer to as “charismatic megafauna,” such as walruses and polar bears. These animals ordinarily travel on sea ice; as less and less is available, they are forced on shore to places they don’t ordinarily spend as much of their time.
How these changes affect the big animals — as well as smaller plants and animals below them in the Arctic food chain — is rife with questions for which the scientists aboard Sikuliaq are trying to find answers. What they discover may help us figure out what, if anything, we need to do to ensure Alaska remains a place where Arctic species can thrive.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,