Ecosystems Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations EcoFOCI Bering Sea Ice

Bering Sea-Ice Edge Expedition
Research Activities - Introduction


    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 Bering Sea.
  • 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 ice:

  • 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 ecosystem.
  • 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 will help us to understand links between sea water, sea ice and the plants and animals that make up this ecosystem.  This information will help us to understand the potential impacts of climate change on the Bering Sea ecosystem. We can then apply this understanding to more effective management of the vast and varied marine resources of this region.

NOAA - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration