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Physical forcing of ecosystem dynamics on the Bering Sea Shelf

P. J. Stabeno,1 G. L. Hunt, Jr.,2 J. M. Napp,3 and J. D. Schumacher 4

1NOAA, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, Washington, 98115
2University of California
3Alaska Fisheries Science Center
4Two Crow Environmental Consultants, Silver City, NM, 88061

Chapter 30 in The Sea, Vol. 14, A.R. Robinson and K. Brink (eds.) ISBN 0-674-01527-4.
Copyright ©2005 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Further electronic distribution is not allowed.

8. Future Directions

A substantial amount of information has been compiled which identifies detailed needs for future interdisciplinary research in coastal waters of the eastern Bering Sea (e.g., NRC, 1996; Draft Bering Sea Ecosystem Research Plan, 1998; Springer, 1999). Further, Hunt et al. (2002) present seven testable relationships among physical and biological processes that would lead toward substantiation or refutation of the OCH. Of these, five require comprehensive monitoring of biophysical features of the shelf.

At present, there are several monitoring efforts underway in the Bering Sea. Among the most notable are the annual trawl and acoustic surveys conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The ensuing time series of water temperature, and biomass/abundance of many fish and other marine biota form the basis of numerous publications regarding the Bering Sea ecosystem (Ianelli et al., 2001). Bird (Dragoo et al., 2000) and marine mammal counts (National Marine Mammal Laboratory, Seattle, WA) are being conducted at many sites in the region and supplement the survey observations. Sea ice is well monitored by satellite observations; water column currents and properties, chemistry, and ichthyo-zooplankton populations, however, are greatly under-sampled. When we consider that the eastern shelf is approximately the same size as the states of California, Oregon, and Washington combined and that at present there is only one continuously occupied site (1995–present, Site 2 in the middle shelf of the southeastern Bering Sea) where biophysical moored instruments are maintained, it is amazing we have learned as much as we have. Recent re-analyses of long biological time series exemplify the great degree of inherent variability on the Bering Sea shelf that must be taken into account when attempting to design new monitoring studies (Napp et al., 2002). We note that the time series from Site 2 (Fig. 30.6) were a keystone in formulating the OCH and have formed the basis for more than a dozen publications and supportive data for many others. A more comprehensive, permanent monitoring program is needed for Alaskan coastal waters.

The realization that there is value to the traditional knowledge and wisdom (TKW) of the local Native Peoples has come slowly, but is now gaining recognition (NRC, 1996). Native People rely for their existence on their ability to see the patterns in all elements of their environment: the weather, sea ice, fish, marine mammals and birds. This knowledge is now finding its way into scientific literature (e.g., Pungowiyi, 2000; Noongwook, 2000; Huntington, 2000). While TKW is not quantitative, it has the potential to make contributions to both retrospective and current studies. Its use as an integrative tool will help us to better understand the ecosystem of the Bering Sea. Further, it is obvious that the Native Peoples could provide a valuable component for monitoring the vast Bering Sea (e.g., Harwood et al., 2002).

On the national level, the National Ocean Research Leadership Council (NORLC), a Cabinet-level group of 14 Federal agencies, has designated the establishment of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) as its highest priority. The process was accelerated in 2000 with the creation of Ocean.US, a federal interagency office established by the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP). To date, nine agencies have agreed to participate in the Ocean.US endeavor. Establishment of an IOOS is driven by both national and regional (multi-state) priorities for data and informational products. Among the objectives of this proposed program are: to improve predictions of climate change and its effects on coastal communities, to protect more effectively and restore healthy coastal marine ecosystems, and to enable the sustained use of marine resources.

In addition to observations, expansion of the modeling effort is necessary to better understand dynamics of the Bering Sea ecosystem. Modeling can be portioned into two aspects. Hydrodynamic models can treat biological components (e.g., pollock eggs and larvae) as "floats" so that the model becomes an individual based model of ecosystem dynamics containing many of the elements of the conceptual pathway model (e.g.,Walsh and McRoy, 1986). Another approach is the application of the ECOSIM model (e.g., Walters et al., 1999; Aydin, 2002), which is a population-scale quantitative food web model that adheres to a mass-balance (not necessarily equilibrium), where the linkage to physics can enter though bottom-up forcing on primary production. Both approaches have value and both suffer because of the complex nature of using them as simple tools to examine biophysical processes and mechanisms. We believe that models and/or their informational products need to become more "user friendly" and generally available for all investigators.

How can the NEPROMS become a user-friendlier tool? The answer to this question could take the form of developing informational products from model simulations. Computed and averaged (perhaps on a daily time step) water property and velocity field distributions could be stored. Coupling these averaged fields with an interactive interface, which would allow a naive user to choose particular simulations and then access them in selected time/space domains, would permit far more research into questions of how the ecosystem functions than is possible today.

The Bering Sea supports a rich and productive ecosystem, with strong physical forcing and a well-defined climate signal. Economically, it is extremely valuable, providing nearly half of the US catch of fish and shellfish. It provides sustenance and the basis for important cultural traditions of native communities throughout the region. Although its economic importance has been acknowledged for some time, long-term biological and physical observations do not adequately cover the vast area of the Bering Sea. New technologies of satellite observation, moored autonomous samplers, and autonomous vehicles may help to solve the problems of under sampling. Multi-national research endeavors in this region would also help us to obtain sufficient sample densities to describe the mechanisms that structure this ecosystem. The Bering Sea ecosystem is ripe for description and improving our understanding of the biophysical mechanisms that lead to its high productivity.


Much of the material presented in the Chapter is taken from three National Science Foundation research programs (PROBES, ISHTAR and INNER FRONT), two National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Ocean Programs studies (Bering Sea Fisheries Oceanography Coordinated Investigations and Southeast Bering Sea Carrying Capacity), and from NOAA's ongoing Fisheries Oceanography Coordinated Investigations program conducted jointly by the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, both in Seattle, WA. J. Schumacher acknowledges funding from the PMEL/FOCI program for his time in writing this Chapter, and G. Hunt received support from NSF Grant OPP-9617287. NOAA's Coastal Ocean Program sponsored some of this research and this chapter is contribution FOCI-B451 to Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations, and is contribution #2529 from PMEL.

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