Field Report from Cook Inlet II

Chris Guo and Jesse Ross prepairing to deploy a “bongo net” in front of a seismic survey being performed in the Cook Inlet by Polarcus, under contract to oil company Hilcorp. White “advance chase vessel” can be seen just above and to the right of Chris’ head. The survey vessel is just to his left on the horizon.

I’ve just returned from Homer, Alaska, where I was last week for the second phase of our Cook Inlet Seismic Survey monitoring project. The first phase occurred a few weeks back when we deployed a set of hydrophone moorings in and about the survey area to record the progress of the survey – ostensibly to evaluate sound propagation in a highly variable marine environment. We also hope to have acoustical records of whales in the area; tracking their movements and thus any geographic responses they may have to the survey.

Our second phase involved sampling zooplankton in front of, and behind the survey vessel with the objective of clarifying what (if anything) occurs to zooplankton in the wake of the survey. An earlier study by Rob McCauley et. al seemed to indicate high zooplankton mortality around the surveys, but the general consensus is that while the paper was comprehensive, the study was “data poor,” and thus disputable.

For this effort we’ve contacted the seismic survey sponsor, Hilcorp to let them know what we’re doing. Looping them into our plans will provide for more predictable samples – and their knowing where we were took the burden off of their chase boats, who are tasked with keeping uninformed vessels from running afoul of their streamers (being drawn up to two miles behind their survey vessel).

Our technique involved dropping “bongo nets” down into the water column and doing 20m and 50m vertical samples through the plankton. We initially pulled up samples along the survey transect line in front of the survey vessel, moved aside to let them pass, and then followed up behind with the same sample protocols. We’re looking for difference between the samples – not so much in their density or diversity, but in terms of their condition.

Hopefully we’ll have a general understanding of the data within a week or so, with a deeper analysis as time and funding permit. Stay tuned!

I have a ton of folks to thank for getting us this far. We would have gotten nowhere if Manolo Castellote with the University of Washington had not signed on early and offered up the hydrophone moorings, transport, tools, and even “Mustang Suits” from NOAA Anchorage and the Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Kris Holderied with NOAA Federal has been doing a lot of “traffic control” – introducing us to the talent channels. Coowe Walker with the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve pulled together the talent channels, Susan Saupe, Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council Science Director kept a watchful eye on our progress, gently guiding me back on track when I got lost in the weeds, and Debbie Tobin, also with the University of Alaska, who sprinkled just the right amount of faery dust around the whole project; bringing in her colleague’s and student’s enthusiasm – which kept me going when I didn’t know whether I was lifting off the runway or stepping into freefall.

We also want to acknowledge Beth Sharp, Carl Phillips, and Neil Boughton from Hilcorp. Beth recognized how a systematic study of this question would advance the discussion in useful ways. Neil and Carl have the enviable job title of “Party Managers,” but are doing the much more prosaic job of coordinating the maritime activities around the survey – including extending their hospitality to our plankton sample operation.

And of course our fantastic crew – Chris Guo and Jesse Ross were our adept and energetic plankton net wranglers, and Brian Reid our deft skipper. All kept steady hands on our small landing craft in 6 ft. seas and 25 knot winds. Chris went on to do the preliminary zooplankton analysis with Marian Shaffer (also with the University of Alaska). Rob Campbell with the Prince William Sound Science Center will be doing the deeper zooplankton analysis later this week.

And these were just the folks I met in person. There are many more folks with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, NOAA Alaska, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) behind the scenes an in the wings spiriting this project along. I owe them all a deep debt of gratitude.

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1 comment for “Field Report from Cook Inlet II

  1. October 31, 2019 at 5:40 pm

    Look forward to hearing your findings and conclusions!

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