FHL 568b | Summer B 2018

Fjord Ecosystems and Climate Change 2018

Credits: 9

Instructor(s): Dr. Craig R. Smith , Dr. Maria Vernet


This course, designed for graduate and advanced undergraduate students, will focus on fjord ecosystems, which are common coastal features (~5000 globally) from polar to temperate latitudes, serve as major interfaces between the cryosphere and the ocean, provide a broad range of ecosystem functions and services to natural and human communities, and are very sensitive to climate change. Fjord ecosystems are influenced by various physical and biogeochemical drivers, they are often coastal hotspots of productivity and biodiversity, they harbor an extraordinary range of habitats, and they are the foci of fisheries, waste disposal, and ecotourism.  In addition, fjords provide model ecosystems to understand basic oceanographic forcing, to illustrate interactions between disturbance and productivity gradients in driving biodiversity, to test how horizontal subsidies across ecosystem boundaries structure food webs, to examine the influence of larval source-sink dynamics on metacommunities, and for elucidating how anthropogenic stressors (from waste disposal to climate warming) are altering coastal ecosystems. Thus, fjords provide outstanding exemplars to elucidate and model how physical and biogeochemical processes influence pelagic and seafloor ecosystem structure and function, and to show how climate warming will alter key coastal ecosystems.

Craig Smith
Chinstrap penguins nesting along Andvord Bay, a highly productive but rapidly warming fjord on the West Antarctic Peninsula. Andvord Bay will serve as an Antarctic example to elucidate the effects of climate warming on polar fjords.

Our course goals are to (1) provide basic understanding (including hands-on experience) of the structure, function, and climate-sensitivity of fjord ecosystems from poles to temperate zones, (2) introduce state-of-the-art methods and tools for their study (ranging from shipboard sampling, through remote sensing and cabled observatories, to ecosystem modeling), (3) highlight the influence of climate warming (and other anthropogenic impacts) on fjord ecosystems, and (4) foster critical thinking about environmental issues related to coastal ecosystems and climate change. Laboratory exercises, field trips, and student projects will be centered on comparing and contrasting key ecological drivers in polar and temperate fjords using new data sets from polar fjords on the West Antarctic Peninsula and the temperate fjords around Friday Harbor (including Saanich Inlet) as end-members in climate forcing. The contrasting of newly acquired data from polar and temperate fjord ecosystems will provide our students with a unique opportunity to work with state-of-art methods to explore ecosystem drivers and the influence of climate warming on coastal ecosystems.

Craig Smith
The temperate fjords around Friday Harbor, WA, will provide comparisons of ecosystem structure and function in fjords at the opposite end of a climate gradient.

Student stipends funded by the US NSF and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research will be available on a competitive basis to cover partial costs of attendance; students are strongly encouraged to seek their own funding as well. International students are welcome to apply.

Lead Instructors:

  • Craig R. Smith, Seafloor Ecologist, Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1000 Pope Road, Honolulu, HI 96822
  • Maria Vernet, Pelagic Ecologist, Integrative Oceanography Division, MC 0218, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, California 92093-0218

Co-Instructions: Martin Truffer, Glaciologist, University of Alaska Fairbanks; Peter Winsor, Physical Oceanographer, University of Alaska Fairbanks; Brian Powell, Ecosystem Modeler, University of Hawaii at Manoa