OCEAN 492A | Autumn 2020

Pelagic Ecosystem Function in the San Juan Archipelago 2020

Credits: 15

Instructor(s): Dr. Jan Newton , Dr. Rebecca Guenther , Dr. Matthew Baker


Now in its 17th year, this very successful apprenticeship, Pelagic Ecosystem Function (PEF), uses the natural laboratory of the waters in the San Juan Archipelago to investigate the workings of a unique pelagic (open water) ecosystem. Friday Harbor is an ideal place for pelagic ecosystem studies because here, inputs from oceanic realms and major river systems are mixed by powerful tidal currents, creating an oceanographically complex habitat that supports a diverse community of plankton, fishes, seabirds, and marine mammals.

For this apprenticeship, we will use university research vessels to examine the patterns, interactions, and links among all the components of this complex marine ecosystem, to understand how oceanographic processes shape the spatial and temporal patterns of open water biotic communities. Our goal is to gather data to document ecosystem trends and to teach you methods that you can use throughout your career. To achieve this, we help you design and implement an independent but integrated research project that is the keystone of this program.

Our apprenticeship features formal instruction, independent fieldwork, and a collaborative learning environment. For the first two weeks, the instructors provide an overview of basic concepts and field and laboratory techniques. Throughout the rest of the quarter, we work together to examine spatial and temporal variability in the fall transitional season for five pelagic ecosystem components: (1) physical oceanography, (2) chemical oceanography, (3) biological production (phytoplankton, zooplankton), (4) pelagic fishes (demographics, diet, habitat, acoustics surveys, camera surveys), and (5) predators (birds and mammals). You will to learn research methods for all of these but will then select one for intense focus. Working as part of a cooperative research team, you will have the opportunity to collect and analyze field and laboratory data. You will also learn to report your findings in a professional manner, verbally and in a written scientific paper.

This apprenticeship is a unique opportunity for you to spend a quarter conducting meaningful field research in a stimulating but supportive environment. Your work, building on the findings of previous apprentices, will contribute to a valuable data set that may enable us to document long-term changes in the region. You will also have the opportunity to learn from professional scientists and to work collaboratively with students from other institutions, teaching the methods you have learned and facilitating peer-to-peer learning.

Enrollment limited to 12 students. UW students earn “W” credits in this writing-intensive course. No textbook is required for this course.

UW undergraduate students taking this course may be eligible for partial funding from the Mary Gates Endowment (MGE).

Instructors for this course are:

Dr. Jan Newton, University of Washington, Applied Physics Laboratory
Dr. Matthew Baker, University of Washington: School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences
Dr. Rebecca Guenther