National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2020

A coupled pelagic–benthic–sympagic biogeochemical model for the Bering Sea: documentation and validation of the BESTNPZ model (v2019.08.23) within a high-resolution regional ocean model

Kearney, K., A. Hermann, W. Cheng, I. Ortiz, and K. Aydin

Geosci. Model Dev., 13, 597–650, doi: 10.5194/gmd-13-597-2020, View online (2020)

The Bering Sea is a highly productive ecosystem, supporting a variety of fish, seabird, and marine mammal populations, as well as large commercial fisheries. Due to its unique shelf geometry and the presence of seasonal sea ice, the processes controlling productivity in the Bering Sea ecosystem span the pelagic water column, the benthic sea floor, and the sympagic sea ice environments. The Bering Ecosystem Study Nutrient-Phytoplankton-Zooplankton (BESTNPZ) model has been developed to simulate the lower-trophic-level processes throughout this region. Here, we present a version of this lower-trophic-level model coupled to a three-dimensional regional ocean model for the Bering Sea. We quantify the model's ability to reproduce key physical features of biological importance as well as its skill in capturing the seasonal and interannual variations in primary and secondary productivity over the past several decades. We find that the ocean model demonstrates considerable skill in replicating observed horizontal and vertical patterns of water movement, mixing, and stratification, as well as the temperature and salinity signatures of various water masses throughout the Bering Sea. Along the data-rich central portions of the southeastern Bering Sea shelf, it is also able to capture the mean seasonal cycle of primary production. However, its ability to replicate domain-wide patterns in nutrient cycling, primary production, and zooplankton community composition, particularly with respect to the interannual variations that are important when linking variation in productivity to changes in longer-lived upper-trophic-level species, remains limited. We therefore suggest that near-term application of this model should focus on the physical model outputs, while model development continues to elucidate potential mechanisms controlling nutrient cycling, bloom processes, and trophic dynamics.

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