The Behavioral REsearch And eCosystem Health lab

at the University of Alaska Southeast &

the College of Fisheries & Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks



The overall aim of this lab is to understand the behavior and ecology of marine mammals, and their role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. A wide network of collaborators, undergraduates, and graduate students are involved in projects related to this theme. Click on the links to the right to learn more about current research and students. 

If you are a prospective student, please read through the project descriptions on this website. Also review the admission requirements to the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences: I do not currently have funding to support additional students. However, highly talented students may be able to obtain their own funding so please contact me if you are interested.




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Friday, March 11, 2016

Research Overview: The Importance of Kelp Forests

Read the background behind our current study of kelp forests in Southeast Alaska. This post is courtesy of Anneliese Moll, a Research Assistant in the BREACH lab who is supported by the Alaska BLaST program. Thanks, Anneliese!


Kelp forests are important habitats for many species of marine organisms and are one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. They have a dramatic impact on the strength of currents within an area because of the drag they create with their large blades. That drag slows the water within the bed which makes it a perfect shelter and feeding ground for many species ranging from worms and fish to sea otters and other larger marine mammals.

While kelp beds are important for many species of marine organisms, humans have also found many applications for commercial use. Many places around the world have large scale kelp harvesting programs. Depending on the species of kelp and the type of harvest all or only the upper section of the canopy may be harvested. Kelp has many commercial applications: algin, food, pharmaceuticals, fireproofing fabrics, fertilizer, and more recently it is being considered as an alternative energy source. Beyond human and animal use kelp forests play another vital role that has implications around the world. Kelp forests play a vital role in carbon sequestering, the long term storage of carbon, which ultimately ties to global climate change.   

Here at the BREACH Lab we have been working on collecting information about kelp density throughout Sitka Sound in Southeast Alaska. By using NASA satellite images and altering the colors we are able to make the green/brown color of the kelp stand out. Our time series begins in the in the mid 1980’s and continues until almost the end of 2011. Using a program called ENVI and advice from a Ph.D. candidate from the University of California, Santa Barbara (Tom Bell),I am working during this school year to go through all of the images and circling areas with sufficient kelp growth. When this is completed we should be able to quantify the kelp growth, or lack thereof, for the last 20 years.

During the summer of 2015, Dr. Pearson and Dr. Stekoll traveled to Sitka to do some kelp bed mapping of their own using a boat and a drone to ground-truth the information that we are obtaining from the satellite images.

The long-term goal of the project is to track changes in kelp growth in Sitka Sound with respect to sea otter recolonization. Our hypothesis is that kelp will be most abundant in regions where sea otters have been present for the longest period of time. Another goal of the project is to look at the influence of climate change on kelp forests. Eventually, the objective will be to include other regions of southeast Alaska in this study. Through this study we hope to also be able to relate the role of kelp forests within southeast Alaska to carbon sequestration.

The image below shows a satellite image that has been processed to show the kelp, which stands out in bright yellow.


Sitka Sound Kelp
Sitka Sound Kelp

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