Although the Bering Sea is
far from where most people live, it is a very important place:
- Climatically – Water from the Pacific Ocean flows through the Bering
Sea on its way to the Arctic Ocean or to recirculate southward into
the Pacific again. Changing sea-ice conditions, temperature and salinity
in the Bering Sea can influence conditions in
the Arctic Ocean. Changes in the Bering and the Arctic may have a profound
effect on global climate.
- Economically – About half of the United States harvest of fish
and shellfish comes from Alaskan waters, and most of that from the
- Ecologically – The Bering Sea is home to a very rich, diverse ecosystem.
Some of the animals of the Bering Sea are endangered (i.e. Steller’s
sea lion, bowhead and northern right whales) and many more are being
forced to adjust to changing conditions.
- Culturally – The Bering Sea and its resources are important to the cultural
identity and way of life of many Native Alaskan communities that live
on its margins.
As a marginal ice zone, the Bering Sea is influenced strongly by sea
- Sea ice determines the temperature, salinity and stratification of the
water in the northern Bering Sea.
- Timing and location of sea ice may determine the timing and strength
of the spring phytoplankton bloom. Because phytoplankton form the base
of the food web, changes in the spring bloom can influence the entire
- The ice edge is a unique habitat required by walrus and four species
of seals to haul out, molt and bear their young.
- The sea ice-edge environment is probably of great importance to the ecosystem,
as it may concentrate prey for fish, birds and mammals.
Sea-ice extent has been decreasing in the Bering Sea. If sea ice disappears from this region, what
will happen to the unique ice-edge ecosystem? Observations made on this expedition help us understand
links between sea water, sea ice and the plants and animals that make up this ecosystem. This
in turn will help us understand the potential impacts of climate change on the Bering Sea ecosystem. We can then apply this new knowledge to
more effective management of the vast and varied marine resources of this region.