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Maine Space Grant fellowship awarded

August 28, 2012



Kerstin Cullen, an SMS Oceanography graduate student working with Andrew Thomas was awarded a 2012 Maine Space Grant graduate fellowship for her project "Time and space variability of phytoplankton biomass on the Gulf of Alaska shelf: links to dominant forcing mechanisms". Maine Space Grant fellowships are awarded using NASA funds for research that helps NASA fulfill its mission.


A description of the project is available here.


Time and space variability of phytoplankton biomass on the Gulf of Alaska shelf: links to dominant forcing mechanisms 


Kerstin Cullen



Ten years of satellite data will be used to quantify the variability of phytoplankton biomass in time and space on the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) shelf from Kodiak to Yakutat. Phytoplankton, the base of the marine food web, fuel upper trophic levels such as the highly productive GOA shelf fisheries, are a direct link between physical environmental forcing and the marine biosphere and are a sensitive indicator of environmental change.  Understanding phytoplankton variability is critical for ecosystem monitoring and management and as input to biogeochemical models.  Satellite data that measure chlorophyll concentrations provide the only means by which systematic measurements of phytoplankton over such a large shelf region can be made over decadal time spans. These data will be used to quantify seasonal cycles and interannual variability and build GIS-compatible maps of regional variability documenting both timing and magnitude biomass shifts. The mechanisms that drive phytoplankton variability in time and space in this region are not fully understood. Results from the variability analysis will be compared to ancillary data that characterize aspects of the oceanographic / atmospheric physical forcing, including wind, river discharge, precipitation, sea surface temperature and indices of basin-scale North Pacific behavior such as the North Pacific Oscillation, El Nino Southern Oscillation and the North Pacific Index.   

Marine Science

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