AEO {Arctic Environmental Observatory}


Project Description (Last revised April 21,  2006)

"An Arctic Environmental Observatory in Bering Strait," funded with support from the National Science Foundation, is a cooperative research project involving scientists Lee Cooper and Jackie Grebmeier of the University of Tennessee, Gay Sheffield of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Lou Codispoti of the University of Maryland. Additional logistical assistance and support has been provided by the city of Diomede, local residents of Diomede, staff of the Bering Strait School District, and the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards. 

There are three components to the project. One part of our overall sampling strategy, which also has a community outreach function on Little Diomede Island, is marine mammal sampling and data gathering, which is coordinated with local subsistence hunters by Alaska Department of Fish and Game scientists cooperating in the environmental observatory effort. Tissue samples that are made available from locally harvested marine mammals that are used for food are preserved for scientific studies, including contaminant burdens, genetic biodiversity, and food web analyses. Some of the uses that have been made of these samples provided by subsistence hunters is tabulated here. Assistance we received from local hunters in May, 2001 also resulted in the first satellite tracking of an ice-associated ringed seal in open pack ice in U.S. arctic waters.  Gay Sheffield is the lead scientist for this portion of the project.

A second portion of our work recognizes the importance of benthic communities on the shallow Bering and Chukchi shelves to Arctic biogeochemical cycling. We are continuing a ~20 year record of benthic biological and chemical sampling at two highly productive sites directly north and south of Bering Strait, and south of St. Lawrence Island.  Six cruises have been specifically supported through this project and were conducted in July, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Service Sir Wilfrid Laurier. In addition, sampling from the US Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star in late winter 2001.  NOAA's Arctic program is providing some support for a limited effort we will be involved with in 2006.  Jackie Grebmeier is the lead scientist for this portion of the project. Results have been published in a number of journals, including an article in the March 10, 2006 issue of Science that was widely covered by the mass media.  A special link to a Science Magazine webpage that provides free access to that paper is available from the Arctic Environmental Observatory section on our Arctic Research at the University of Tennessee webpage

A final important goal is to establish an onshore seawater environmental system at Diomede Village. The strategic location of this observatory on Little Diomede Island will permit rapid, flexible collection of chemical, biological, and physical data on the transport of nutrient- and organic-rich waters of north Pacific origin into the Arctic Ocean through this narrow strait. Installation of scientific water sampling equipment was completed in August, 2000 on Little Diomede Island, which is located in the center of Bering Strait. Additional improvements to the pumping system were made in July-August, 2000 and in March-May, 2003. Nevertheless our capabilities to pump water onshore for analysis on a 24/7 year-round basis have been limited by storm (photos, October 2004) and ice damage. During our intermittent water pumping operations we have continuously measured Bering Strait water for autonomous determinations of salinity, temperature, nitrate, nitrite, phosphate, and fluorometric proxies of chlorophyll a. We also have collected hourly-to-daily water column samples of silicate, ammonia, total fixed nitrogen and phosphorus, and d18O. Many of these data have been edited for data quality assurance and are available upon request to interested scientific users. Lou Codispoti and Lee Cooper share responsibility for this portion of the project. More details on the water collection efforts and data are available here. "The potential for using Little Diomede Island as a platform for observing environmental conditions in Bering Strait," Arctic 59(2): 129-141, published in June 2006, is a paper describing some of our results and the overall feasibility of using Diomede as an onshore seawater pumping station.  Please feel free to contact us for a reprint (.pdf format)

 USCGC Healy off Diomede. A tour of the ship was provided for 12 Diomede residents during a visit in June 2004.

Broader Impacts, Teacher Involvement and Community Outreach

Our work on Little Diomede Island is unusual for natural scientists, particularly in ocean sciences because that we are working directly continuously within a small Inupiat community that is among the most remote and difficult to reach of any community in the United States. Without the assistance and support of the local community and school, it would not be possible for us undertake these efforts with any expectation of success. Involvement of local and outside teachers and community residents in our work has added value to our scientific program. Part of our work responsibilities includes providing information to the local community on our efforts, as well as giving teachers and others the opportunity to share in our research experience.

 Jackie Grebmeier and Betty Carvellas host several Diomede residents in the Officer's Lounge on the Sir Wilfrid Laurier during a Diomede visit in July 2004.

A sixth grade teacher from the St. Peter School in Quincy, Illinois, Dave Brown, participated in our research program in 2003, including work at Diomede during our water sampling operation, as well as during the July 2003 Sir Wilfrid Laurier cruise. This experience was funded through the National Science Foundation’s Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic (TEA) program. The goals of the TEA program and two successor programs, Teacher and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating (TREC) and the Armada Project, are to get classroom teachers involved in science research, to carry that knowledge back into their classrooms, and to share the information with other teachers.  Betty Carvellas, a high school biology teacher at Essex High School in Essex Junction, Vermont worked with us as part of the Bering Strait Environmental Observatory in 2004 and again in 2005, following up a 2002 experience on the Shelf-Basin Interactions project. While in the field, both Betty and Dave kept science journals with photos that described their experiences. You can access these archived web journals and photos of their activities on the following pages: and


Lee Cooper and Pattie Cie, a middle school teacher from Yelm, Washington visit with Diomede children  in June 2004. Pattie was involved in a teacher research experience in the Shelf-Basin Interactions program






Live from Diomede

Live Cam from Diomede: located at Diomede School, looking west across the International Dateline towards Big Diomede Island. Patience is required while image loads and is transmitted over satellite Internet connection. Use you brower back-button to return here.

Audio program from Diomede

Recorded and produced by Kathy Turco, Alaska's Spirit Speaks: Sound & Science

This is a self-contained web-based audio program recorded at Diomede, and it includes local residents talking about life on the island, subsistence hunting, as well as scientists associated with our research program talking about science goals. Files are in streaming audio format, are for private, non-commercial use, are copyrighted and cannot be re-used, reproduced, or distributed without permission of the copyright holders. Required software: Flashplayer (free if not already on your computer from

Enter audio site (Use the back-button to return to this page)

Other Associated Projects

We are also working on this project with Jack DiTullio and his colleagues of the University of Charleston, who are studying the generation of dimethyl sulfide (DMS), and its precursors in the water column and in Bering Sea sediments. DMS is a radiatively-active gas generated from phytoplankton throughout the world ocean. More information about this component of the project is available at Jack DiTullio's research page.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is also providing some funding support for our work aboard the Sir Wilfrid Laurier, including a cooperative mooring program southwest of St. Lawrence Island with support also provided to Jim Overland of NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and to Terry Whitledge of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Vince Kelly, part of our University of Maryland team participating in the project, had the opportunity to share information about the project (and fishing adventures in Alaska) with former President Carter and Mrs. Carter in January 2004.






Lead Investigator: Lee Cooper

  • Mailing address:
  • Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • 569 Dabney Hall, University of Tennessee
  • Knoxville, TN 37996, U.S.A.