The Sitka Sound Science Center, which is an official member of the Organization of Biological Field Stations and the National Association of Marine Laboratories, is involved in a wide variety of locally-relevant aquatic and terrestrial research.  We are partnered with numerous universities, organizations, and government departments in pursuit of our research, and strive to use our new knowledge to benefit, educate, and inspire our community and the world.

As a Field Station and educational facility, we offer logistical support for university field courses, rent bench space to visiting scientists, and provide numerous citizen science learning opportunities for the public.  Thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation and the Skaggs Foundation, we also have a Scientist in Residency Fellowship (SIRF) program, which brings scientists to Sitka for one month sabbaticals that allow them time to work undisturbed by their usual daily routines and also provide them with community engagement opportunities to share their research and help them improve scientific literacy in our community.

To get updates on research and other things happening at the Science Center, join our email list!

 Research at SSSC is always changing and growing.  Check back regularly to learn about new research!

Current Research

Sitka GeoTask Force

Sitka Geotask Force Summaries of August 2015 Sitka Landslides (March 2016)

Sitka Landslide Geotaskforce Talk

On August 18, 2015, a rapid, heavy rain event caused a series of deadly and damaging landslides in Sitka. There were over 40 slides that occurred on Baranof and Chichagof Islands that day. The biggest one, on Harbor Mountain, was 1,200 feet long, killed three men and caused massive damage to property on Kramer Avenue. Over the next days, weeks and months, the community of Sitka led by our Sitka Fire Department came together to support the search for the lost men, clear the roads and repair the damage to property. With this emergency, a new science community was also created. The Sitka GeoTask Force was formed by gathering geophysical experts from around Alaska and the country to pool existing information about the slide area, share information and help determine next steps in terms of research, synthesis and risk. Organized by the Sitka Sound Science Center, representatives with a breadth of knowledge about the region volunteered to share existing geotechnical information and work towards understanding what gaps in knowledge need to be filled. Members of the Sitka Geo Task Force readily and openly shared their scientific expertise all in the name of supporting a community in need.

Southeast Alaska Sperm Whale Avoidance Project

The Southeast Alaska Sperm Whale Avoidance Project is a unique collaboration between commercial fishermen, scientists, and fisheries managers. Sperm whales have learned to take sablefish off commercial fishing gear in the Gulf of Alaska. This behavior is known as depredation and is risky for whales and fishermen and results in economic loss in catch. Fishermen approached scientists regarding these interactions and SEASWAP was formed in 2003. The goal of SEASWAP is to understand the complex relationship between sperm whales and fishermen and to recommend strategies to reduce these interactions. SSSC has been a partner since 2007 and SSSC Research Director Victoria O’Connell is a founding member of SEASWAP.

Learn more about SEASWAP.

Ocean Acidification Monitoring in Sitka Sound

SSSC partners with a number of researchers and organizations to monitor the carbonate chemistry of Sitka Sound and investigate local vulnerabilities and resilience to the impacts of ocean acidification (OA). SSSC researchers help to maintain continuous water monitoring instrumentation deployed at 30 ft in Sitka Sound for University of California Santa Cruz researcher Kristy Kroeker, who studies global change ecology in kelp forest ecosystems. The U.S. Coast Guard Academy has also deployed a harbor buoy to monitor pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature and salinity in near-surface waters; USCGA cadet interns use this instrumentation in their summer research and SSSC hatchery staff utilize the water quality information and maintain instrument calibration year-round. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska, an SSSC partner, is currently launching a high-quality ocean acidification monitoring program within their environmental sciences department that will help to fill an important data need in our region and also facilitate future OA research in the Sitka area. SSSC is a member of the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network, whose comprehensive website can be found here.

News coverage of OA monitoring efforts in Sitka Sound.

Coastal Resilience in Sitka Sound

Through a collaborative project between SSSC, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), University of Alaska Southeast (UAS), and the US Coast Guard Academy (USCGA), USCGA Cadet interns will map, assess, monitor Sitka Sound kelp beds and evaluate changing environmental conditions such as pH, temperature, and currents in Sitka Sound. Concurrently, scientists will collect density and demographic data on the Pinto abalone in Sitka Sound. Kelp beds and Pinto abalone are important species in the coastal ecosystem of Sitka Sound. Monitoring these populations and correlating trends with factors related to climate change will help inform management decisions and help our community respond to a changing environment. Further, this study will be a conduit for training and mentoring a new generation of scientists and managers through internship programs at the Science Center.  2015-2016 research is funded by Alaska Seagrant, with SSSC Research Director Victoria O’Connell as lead.  Our partners are the USCG Academy (Vlietstra), ADF&G (Hebert), UAS (Pearson).  Taylor White and Lauren Bell lead researchers.

Learn more about this project at its dedicated page

 Deformation Along Queen Charlotte-Fairweather Fault System

Funded by US Geological Survey (USGS), this grant will fund an international team of scientists to examine the Queen Charlotte/Fairweather Fault, an earthquake zone off the coast of British Columbia and Southeast Alaska.  Researchers  will utilize the Canadian Coast Guard Oceanographic Science Vessel John P. Tully to survey areas of recent earthquake activity along the fault. Former SSSC Scientist in Residency Fellow, Dr. Gary Greene (Moss Landing Marine Laboratory and Tombolo Research) and Dr. Vaughn Barrie (Geological Survey of Canada) are the principle investigators for this study.

Science Symposium for STEM engagment (S Cubed)

This Engagment Student Learning Design and Development Level 1 project will contribute to the field of STEM education by exploring the benefits of attendance of a focused reading course and attendance at a science symposium. This project builds on previous NSF work and creates a community of undergraduate learners among students from rural backgrounds across coastal geographic areas that will meet and share learning experiences at Sitka WhaleFest, a rare science symposium for a broad audience in Sitka, Alaska, a community of 9,000 that is heavily dependent on marine resources culturally and economically. This relatively low-tech approach to improving STEM undergraduate learning experiences can shift attitudes among rural undergraduates from diverse backgrounds (AAAS, NSF). These attitudes will translate into improved rates of STEM declared majors and enthusiasm for STEM careers. This project will demonstrate to students and faculty how hands on learning and making research accessible and relevant while changing attitudes about educational and career pathways in the STEM fields. It will also provide science communication training that will help students put scientific ideas into the real world context and provide training in how to utilize scientific gatherings to further investigate STEM careers.

Marine Debris Research

The Sitka Sound Science Center has been involved in Marine Debris research, cleanup, and outreach since our inception. We have partnered with the F/V Cherokee and the Marine Conservation Alliance who have been cleaning Sitka area beaches of marine debris since 2008. Together we have removed over 80,000 pounds of marine debris from the Southeast outer coast.

Learn more about Marine Debris Research

Hatchery Wild Chum Salmon Interaction Project

SSSC, in partnership with Prince William Sound Science Center and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, is part of a $4.5 million, five year study on straying rates of hatchery fish into wild streams around Southeast and Prince William Sound.  In Alaska our hatchery programs for commercial fisheries are stakeholder driven and overseen by fishermen who strongly support Alaska’s mandate to protect wild stocks while enjoying the economic opportunities derived from renewable resources that are well managed.  The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and private hatchery operators have recognized the need for a research program addressing concerns about escapement assessment, and genetic and ecological interactions between hatchery and wild stocks.

Learn more about the Hatchery Wild Chum Salmon Interaction Project