AMSS 2019: Impressions from a First-timer

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs (find them here and here), you know that my current research has no correlation to Alaska marine life or ecosystems, besides the fact that I am collaborating with ASLC’s Dr. Markus Horning. I’ve never been to Alaska before—or even seen more than 2 inches of snow—but I made the trip up north to attend AMSS last week.

Why was I at AMSS, and what did I think of the conference as a more southern latitude researcher?

Early morning hours on the plane on my way to Alaska

To be honest, my trip to Alaska did not arise because of the conference. Talk of me coming up to Alaska initially started because I needed to refurbish some tags for upcoming fieldwork. This eventually grew into the idea of Dr. Markus Horning hosting a Tag Workshop at ASLC for a handful of researchers that could benefit from learning these skills (check back for a recap of the workshop next week!). Since the workshop was scheduled for the week after the conference, I took the opportunity to meet up with ASLC folks at AMSS before the workshop and learn about the science happening all throughout Alaska, its local communities, and their intersection. Here are some of my first impressions, thoughts and experiences I had throughout the week, and concluding sentiments:

FREE to students—brownie point #1. Anyone who is or has been a student knows how difficult it can be to find funding to travel and present at conferences, let alone just attend conferences for the learning and networking experiences. These experiences are crucial to graduate students as they are carving their niche in their fields, and possibly exploring adjacent fields that could complement their own studies. I found it great that AMSS encourages and facilitates the participation of students in giving talks, presenting posters, and even just attending like in my case.

Happy Clapping GIF by Originals

One room, one schedule. AMSS is small enough (<1000 attendees) that all presentations are in one room. No need to devise your own schedule, picking which talks to attend out of the many happening at once, or waste time shuffling back and forth between rooms. You can attend ALL the talks, and even workshops, like the Communicating Ocean Sciences Workshop. Poster sessions are my favorite part of conferences because they offer a great opportunity to network and engage in interesting conversations with the researchers. Unlike larger conferences with an overwhelming number of posters, I found the AMSS poster sessions to be more enjoyable because you had time to see all the posters and get into detailed discussions with the presenters, rather than speed dating through the posters in attempt to see maybe 25% of them.

The main ballroom for all the presentations

Multidisciplinary and interconnected. Each day focuses on a particular Alaskan marine ecosystem—Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea & Aleutian Islands, and Arctic—and talks throughout the day span the smallest creatures and lowest trophic levels to the charismatic marine mammals to oceanography to local community interactions. Coming to the conference with little knowledge on Alaskan ecosystems, I was inundated with all the information and cutting-edge research. What really stuck out to me was how various aspects of different talks on “polar opposite” topics were intricately connected—climate affects the physics of the ocean which will impact seasonal productivity and transfer up through the food web all the way to the Alaskan Natives, whose lives and culture depend on their local marine ecosystems.

Pictorial representation of the various trophic levels in the arctic marine ecosystem and the importance of seasonal ice and ocean dynamics. (source: AMAP, 2012. Arctic Climate Issues 2011: Changes in Arctic Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost. SWIPA 2011 Overview Report. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), Oslo. xi + 97pp

Many people, one goal. Among the many scientists were resource managers, educators, students, and other interested public. Unfortunately, most federal employees, who are a vital component of this community, could not make it to the conference, but many of their colleagues and collaborators stepped up to present their work. I knew from the start, everyone shared a common ground—their work revolves around Alaska. However, as I listened to talk after talk, I realized there is a stronger connection among all these individuals—that is, their unifying goal of preserving Alaska’s marine ecosystems through research, management, and cooperation. The northern latitudes are most vulnerable to climate change and this conference highlights how important cross-disciplinary and collaborative work is for tackling the current and future challenges confronted by these communities.

Source © (modified the picture in ppt)

Overall, I was impressed by the quality of research, overwhelmed by the current and future impact of climate change, and inspired by the collaborative effort to bridge research, education, and Alaskan culture. While other ecosystems around the world may have similar cross-disciplinary research and efforts, it is rare that the entire community is brought together to discuss what has been learned and where future efforts should be focused to complement one another’s work for successful outcomes.

Needless to say, the conference surpassed my expectations. I hope I’ve convinced at least a few other researchers that study way below 60°N to venture north next winter to experience AMSS 2020!

Written by: Arina Favilla, PhD Student University of California Santa Cruz

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