About The Distributed Biological Observatory

The overarching goal of the Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) collaboration team that is funded through the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is full-implementation of standardized ocean sampling in five regions of high productivity and biodiversity that extend from the northern Bering Sea to the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Other countries that are currently participating in this research framework in the Pacific Arctic through separate national funding include Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea and China. The pilot international DBO program in the Pacific Arctic was begun in 2010 and demonstrated the utility of the DBO sampling protocol, where each country sending research vessels through the Bering Strait region would coordinate sampling and share research results. The DBO sampling concept is currently being expanded to other portions of the Arctic, including the Canadian Beaufort Sea, Baffin Bay, in waters near Svalbard, and possibly in the Laptev Sea through German-Russian cooperative programs. Annual review of DBO data is facilitated through the international Pacific Arctic Group, including data sharing forums and sharing of cruise plans at annual meetings of the PAG. Through development of a broad scale ocean observatory, the DBO team aims to provide a long-term biologically-focused scientific foundation to understand how the ecosystem of the Pacific Arctic is changing as water temperatures warm, sea ice declines, and the biological system adjusts to the "new" Arctic. We also expect these data should improve the ability of resource management and mission-oriented agencies (e.g., US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) to fine-tune or adjust actions that impact marine resources, local communities, and biological systems. Ultimately, this research therefore contributes to improved conservation, protection, and management of Arctic coastal and ocean resources.

Introduction and History of US and international program

walrus on ice
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The dramatic seasonal retreats and thinning of sea ice, record-setting seawater temperatures and multiple observations of biological changes in the Pacific Arctic sector precipitated an international workshop to evaluate ecosystem response to climate forcing. In May 2009, NOAA convened the Biology-Sea Ice Workshop comprised of 20 national and international scientists, including physical, geochemical and biological field scientists and modelers. A key outcome of the workshop was an EOS article entitled “Biological Response to Recent Pacific Arctic Sea Ice Retreats”. In addition to an overview of observed biophysical changes in the ecosystem, the article suggested a framework for the development of a biological observatory by international members of the Pacific Arctic Group.

dbo ice edge 2019
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The "Distributed Biological Observatory" that is being implemented as a change detection array in the Bering and Chukchi seas lies along a latitudinal gradient extending from the northern Bering Sea across the Chukchi shelf and into the Beaufort Sea. DBO sampling is focused on transects and sampling "boxes" centered on locations of high productivity, biodiversity and/or rates of biological change. The DBO sampling framework was initially tested during the successful 2010 Pilot Study, which consisted of international ship occupations of two of the DBO sites, one in the southeast Chukchi Sea and one across upper Barrow Canyon. Results of the 2010 Pilot Study were the central topic at the December 2010 PAG meeting in Tokyo, Japan, and at the March 2011 DBO workshop in Seoul, Korea, held immediately prior to the international Arctic Science Summit Week. Approximately 90 people attended the one-day DBO workshop in Seoul, including invited speakers who presented ideas for efforts to expand the DBO concept elsewhere in the Arctic. In addition, provisional data sets were presented and planning efforts for follow-on years were initiated.

The DBO development effort picked up momentum in the USA when several U.S. agencies endorsed the DBO concept in Arctic research planning documents, and it was incorporated into the coordinated Arctic research efforts of the the U.S. Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC), which is comprised of representatives from the 13 US federal agencies with interests in the outcomes of Arctic research. On an international level, the Marine Working Group of the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) endorsed the DBO, including expansion to the Atlantic sector of the Arctic, and has provided support for early career scientists to attend DBO data workshops several times.

view of ship
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Funding from the US National Science Foundation was renewed in 2019 with a five-year performance period centered on use of the Canadian Coast Guard Sir Wilfrid Laurier, which transits the Pacific Arctic while performing an annual mission into the Canadian Arctic from Victoria, British Columbia. US scientists participate in this annual research cruise in cooperation with Canadian colleagues from the Institute of Ocean Sciences, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the University of Victoria, and other Canadian institutions. This cruise happens each July and is a fast-paced survey designed to capture the status of the ecosystem at nearly identical dates each summer using water sampling of salinity, temperature, chlorophyll, nutrients, and isotopic tracers, phytoplankton and zooplankton sampling, benthic infauna and sediment collections, and seafloor imagery captured by a video drop camera at each station, where weather permits.

chelsea on ship
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The first DBO special issue of research results was published in June 2019 in Deep Sea Research 2.DBO IT is now focused on bringing together data from 2010-2013 sampling efforts, to demonstrate the value-added of this national and international, sampling shared-data approach to the investigation of biological responses to a rapidly changing Arctic marine ecosystem. Expanding from the Pacific Arctic sector, the DBO will also serve as a framework for international research coordination via the Arctic Council Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP), and is recognized as a task of the pan-arctic Sustaining Arctic Observing Network (SAON) program.

Understanding the impacts of reduced seasonal sea ice and a warming water column on benthic processes are essential to track and forecast ecosystem response in the Pacific Arctic region. Within our research program NOAA supports the Distributed Biological Observatory-Northern Chukchi Integrated Study (DBO-NCIS) for sample collections in the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas of several key water column parameters, phytoplankton species composition, sediment parameters, whole core metabolism measurements, and benthic macrofaunal composition and biomass. Our project goals are to determine hydrographic and sediment characteristics that influence macrofaunal communities and ecosystem function through field and synthesis activities. Our project collaborates with other disciplinary investigators as part of NOAA's Ecosystems & Fisheries Oceanography Coordinated Investigations (EcoFOCI), the Arctic Marine Biodiversity Observing Network (AMBON), and the Chukchi Ecosystem Observatory (CEO). The coordinated research is continuing ongoing time series efforts that are evaluating key processes influencing the status and trends in the Pacific Arctic ecosystem. The annual field cruise also includes sediment and benthic macrofaunal samples collected for investigating harmful algal bloom trophic impacts being undertaken by NOAA-investigators as part of the Alaska Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) network that is an important issue of food security in the region. NOAA is also supporting the DBO sampling concept with multiple cruises undertaken from the USCGC Healy (2017-2019), the NOAA vessel Oscar Dyson and Norseman II in 2020, and the RV Sikuliaq in 2021 and 2023. These are typically longer cruises that allow for process type experiments such as incubation experiments to assess, for example how changing water temperatures are affecting organisms, as well as recovery and deployment of moored instruments that provide year-long coverage of conditions in the northern Bering and Chukchi seas. Both US academic and NOAA scientists are participating in these research efforts. Click here to visit the new NOAA-DBO landing page.

Selected Projects and US and International Agencies That Have Incorporated DBO Sampling

A number of research projects and institutions have incorporated DBO sampling as part of larger observational efforts in the greater Bering Strait region. This data portal provides access and links to data collected from the following projects or institutions:

  • Alaska Monitoring and Assessment Program (AKMAP)
  • Arctic Ecosystem Integrated Survey (EIS)
  • Arctic Marine Biodiversity Observing Network (AMBON)
  • Arctic Observing Network (AON)
  • Bering Arctic-Subarctic Integrated Survey (BASIS)
  • Bowhead Whale Feeding Ecology Study (BOWFEST)
  • Canada's Three Oceans (C3O)
  • Chinese National Arctic Research Expedition (CHINARE)
  • Chukchi Sea Environmental Studies Program (CSESP)
  • Chukchi Sea Offshore Monitoring in Drilling Area (COMIDA)
  • Impacts of Climate on the Eco-Systems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment (ICESCAPE)
  • NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (NASA)
  • Russian-American Long-term Census of the Arctic (RUSALCA)

Forward Planning and Accomplishments

the team
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A major accomplishment in 2016 was the completion of a decadal DBO Implementation Plan. The Plan focuses on the period 2015-2024 and provides a framework for the preparation of Periodic Assessments of the State of Pacific Arctic Marine Environment (PARMA), at specific intervals. The PARMA will be based upon analyses and modeling using DBO-generated data and data from projects supported by NOAA, NSF, Bureau of Oceanic Energy Management, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, North Pacific Research Board and other sources.

Regionally, the DBO Implementation Plan identifies specific strategies to foster connections with existing community-based observation programs in an effort to link offshore observations of biological change to local observations and Indigenous knowledge. Internationally, linkages to pan-Arctic DBO-type sampling programs will be fostered, including transects identified by the Arctic Council Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF)/Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP) and the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME)/Implementation of Ecosystem Approach (EA) to Management Program.

The completion of the DBO Implementation Plan was a specific DBO collaboration team milestone in the 2013-2017 IARPC Plan and was publicly vetted at the 3rd DBO Data Workshop, the 2016 Arctic Observing Summit, and the PAME EA International Conference, as well as at various other national and international venues. Other significant achievements include the completion of year-7 of sampling in DBO/Chukchi regions 1-5, and opportunistic sampling in DBO/Beaufort regions 6-8. Field-sampling data was contributed by colleagues from 11 projects representing 5 countries.

In 2019, a first special issue of the academic journal Deep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography, volume 62 featured a series of results from the initial program; other special issues are planned and results have also been published in other peer-reviewed journals.

Distributed Biological Observatory 10 year implementation plan