National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2020

Evidence suggests potential transformation of the Pacific Arctic ecosystem is underway

Huntington, H.P., S.L. Danielson, F.K. Wiese, M. Baker, P. Boveng, J. Citta, A. DeRobertis, D. Dickson, E. Farley, J.C. George, K. Iken, D. Kimmel, K. Kuletz, C. Ladd, R. Levine, L. Quakenbush, P.J. Stabeno, K.M. Stafford, D. Stockwell, and C. Wilson

Nature Clim. Change, 10, 342–348, doi: 10.1038/s41558-020-0695-2, View online (2020)

The highly productive northern Bering and Chukchi marine shelf ecosystem has long been dominated by strong seasonality in sea-ice and water temperatures. Extremely warm conditions from 2017 into 2019—including loss of ice cover across portions of the region in all three winters—were a marked change even from other recent warm years. Biological indicators suggest that this change of state could alter ecosystem structure and function. Here, we report observations of key physical drivers, biological responses and consequences for humans, including subsistence hunting, commercial fishing and industrial shipping. We consider whether observed state changes are indicative of future norms, whether an ecosystem transformation is already underway and, if so, whether shifts are synchronously functional and system wide or reveal a slower cascade of changes from the physical environment through the food web to human society. Understanding of this observed process of ecosystem reorganization may shed light on transformations occurring elsewhere.

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