University of Alaska Southeast

Evening at Egan Lecture

Juneau, AK
Date of Press Release: Oct 8, 2008

Into the Abyss: Submarine Exploration of Zhemchug Canyon: Largest Undersea
Canyon in the World

Michelle Ridgway, Marine Ecologist
October 10, 2008, 7 P.M., Egan Lecture Hall, University of Alaska Southeast

In summer of 2007, an international team completed the first ever in-water exploration of seafloor and water column creatures in Zhemchug and neighboring Pribilof Canyons.  Using solo-manned submarines and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), scientists collected specimens of corals, sponges, and invertebrates, while capturing high definition video imagery to document these unique ecosystems.

In this “field report”, submarine pilot/marine ecologist Michelle Ridgway provides highlights of the 2007 expedition, including first-ever underwater video footage from the depths of the Alaska’s Bering Sea canyons.

Carved by the Yukon River during past Ice Ages, Zhemchug Canyon is the largest undersea canyon in the world.  Called “Black Pearl” by Russian scientists, the canyon plunges from the shallow Beringian Margin,  the submerged edge of the North American Continent, to over 2,700 meter depths in the Aleutian Basin.

Zhemchug Canyon funnels deep enriched waters up to Alaska’s most productive fishing grounds, feeding and supporting coral, fish and king crab habitats plus extraordinary concentrations of marine mammals and seabirds.

Perched up on the shelf  of the Beringian land bridge are the Pribilof islands, host to one of the world's largest gatherings of marine mammals each summer when northern fur seals return to breed and give birth.  The Pribilofs are also home to sea birds such as puffins, auklets, murres, and rare red-legged kittiwakes. Ridgway will discuss the intimate connection between the Pribilof Islands and Pribilof canyon.

“We just scratched the surface of the canyons,” said Ridgway. We went the first 2000 feet down (about the length of the Mt. Robert’s Tramway).  We still have a ways to go to examine these canyons.”

Life long Alaskan Michelle Ridgway has engaged in marine ecological research and exploration in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska for more than 20 years.  From coastal kelp forests to deep sea habitats, Ridgway has examined the role of biogenic features in supporting the diversity and abundance of species in Alaskan seas. Diver, Submarine pilot and ROV operator, Ridgway continues to probe the depths of Alaskan marine waters using cutting edge technology through her private research and consulting firm, Oceanus Alaska.

The Evening at Egan lecture series is held every Friday at 7 p.m. through November 21, 2008. The October 17 lecture is, “Constructing, Maintaining, or Renovating in a Miserable Climate: Energy Efficiency Revisited” with Marquam George, UAS Associate Professor and construction technology program coordinator.

Visit the Evening at Egan Website for all scheduled lectures.


Katie Bausler

University of Alaska Southeast

(907) 796-6530