New Bering Sea research reveals how changing ecosystem impacts America's most valuable fisheries

NOAA and partners also examine ecosystem changes on sea birds and marine mammals

May 30, 2012

Krill and copepods.

Krill and copepods, types of zooplankton - tiny animals that live in aquatic environments. This image was captured by Jeff Napp of the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center as part of his work on the Bering Sea Project.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

Bering Sea marine mammals, birds, and fish are shifting where they eat, bear their young, and make their homes in response to changes in sea ice extent and duration. These patterns of change are documented in a special issue of the journal of Deep Sea Research II now available online.

The special journal issue represents newly published findings from a partnership between the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL), NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC), the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) at the University of Washington, and several other academic and federal partners.

NOAA researchers and their partners studied Bering Sea ice and ecosystem conditions over six years in order to understand the processes that influence the eastern Bering Sea marine ecosystem. The special journal issue features multiple papers describing the changes in sea ice, the distribution of important nutrients, and how fish, seabirds, fur seals, and whales are responding.

Alaska waters host some of the most commercially valuable U.S. fisheries. More than half of the seafood Americans eat from U.S. waters is caught in Alaska. Understanding what role natural and human-influenced variations in temperature, nutrients, sea ice, and other factors play in the ecosystem will enable better predictions of climate impacts that affect the economy and people of the region.

“We examined how the whole ecosystem is affected by climate variability. Our new insights will better enable us to manage fisheries and protected resources in this large marine ecosystem,” said Jeffrey Napp, Ph.D., a co-leader of the Ecosystems and Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations Program (EcoFOCI) research program and Alaska Fisheries Science Center oceanographer.

Nancy Kachel and Carol Ladd.

Nancy Kachel and Carol Ladd deploy a bongo net to sample for zooplankton at the ice edge in the Bering Sea aboard the Research Vessel Thomas G. Thompson. Kachel is with the NOAA Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington. Ladd is with the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. 

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

Findings of the NOAA-led studies include:


Buoys, such as this one in the Bering Sea, provided critical data for the NOAA Ecosystem and Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations (EcoFOCI) studies. This mooring provides year-round, long-term collection of velocity, temperature, salinity, zooplankton abundance, and other parameters, and has been maintained since 1995.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

Funding for this study was provided by the Bering Sea Project, which is a partnership between the North Pacific Research Board and the National Science Foundation, with substantial scientist and ship time support from NOAA. The six-year project invested approximately $50 million in research by more than 100 principal investigators and many post-doctoral and graduate students from 32 academic, federal, state, and private institutions across the United States and Canada.

Several programs within NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab and Alaska Fisheries Science Center participated in these studies: the Fisheries Oceanography Coordinated Investigations Program , the Marine Assessment and Conservation Engineering Program, the Groundfish Assessment Program, the Status of Stocks and Multi-species Assessment Program the Ecosystem Monitoring and Assessment Program, the Alaska Ecosystems Program, and the Cetacean Assessment Ecology Program.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.