Did you know that Bering Sea mud contains data about ancient history of the area's storms?

Did you know that Bering Sea mud contains data about ancient history of the area's storms? R/V Sikuliaq [see-KOO-lee-auk] spent nearly a month in the Bering Sea collecting sediment cores to help scientists understand thousands of years of storms and weather conditions along the Aleutian Island Chain.

RV Sikuliaqnwith Bering Sea crew

The research vessel departed Seward in late July with a crew of scientists and researchers for the Bering Sea Storm Project. Their goal was to obtain long, cylindrical core samples from the ocean floor in order to research how sediment moved over time.

Aboard was specialized coring equipment including a multicorer, vibracorer and jumbo piston corer, which allowed the scientists to simultaneously obtain multiple undisturbed samples to build a complete sediment record necessary to accurately date the historic and ancient record of the site. 

Mud cores
Mud core

Each core sample may contain up to 50 meters of mud sediment. Core samples are placed into an extruder and 1 cm slices of sediment are studied individually to build a historical record of storms in the area.

“The research cruise between Seward and Adak was incredibly successful,” said Chris Maio, associate professor and coastal geographer from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who was a senior scientist aboard. “We collected 580 meters of sediment cores - that's 15,000 pounds!"

"Learning about the past is the only way to confront the future effectively," Maio told Phys.org. "If we know storm frequency through time for thousands of years and we know the different climate factors, that knowledge will allow us to project what could occur and to be better prepared for it." 

Joining the expedition was Elder mentor Piama R. Oleyer, who was born and raised in Unalaska, and is a member of the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska. She shared her traditional knowledge and six decades of regional weather observations with the researchers, in addition to her expertise in the local plant life, which she has gathered year-round for food and medicine. 

Elder mentor Piama R. Oleyer.
Elder mentor Piama R. Oleyer
UAF Associate Professor Chris Maio
UAF Associate Professor Chris Maio

The crew made stops in the fjords and embayments of Kodiak, Cold Bay, Unalaska, and Adak, before returning to its home port in Seward.

The Bering Sea Storm Project research participants were  Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), University of Alaska Fairbanks, Oregon State University, UNCW Center for Marine Science, UNCW Coastal Ocean Research and Monitoring Program (CORMP), Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska, and Farthest North Films

R/V Sikuliaq is a 261-foot oceanographic research ship capable of bringing scientists to the ice-choked waters of Alaska and the polar regions. Sikuliaq, one of the most advanced university research vessels in the world, is able to break ice up to 2.5 feet thick. It is owned by the National Science Foundation and operated by the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks as part of the U.S. academic research fleet.

You can look back at the research cruise and meet those who were aboard on Facebook or Twitter

Gallery of participants
Gallery two

Photos courtesy Sarah Betcher from Farthest North Films.