Photo Credit: Alexander Sacco

About the Program


The North Pacific Research Board's (NPRB) Arctic Program is the newest integrated ecosystem research program (IERP) to date. The Arctic Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (IERP) will invest approximately $16 million in studying marine processes in the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas in 2017-2021, beginning in the summer of 2017. The program is sponsored by NPRB, Collaborative Alaskan Arctic Studies Program (formerly the North Slope Borough/Shell Baseline Studies Program), Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), and the Office of Naval Research Marine Mammals and Biology Program. Generous in-kind support has been contributed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. This coordinated program was developed in cooperation with the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee Chukchi and Beaufort Sea Ecosystem Collaboration Team and the U.S. Arctic Research Commission.

Coordination & Collaboration

NPRB is collaborating and coordinating with several other U.S. agencies and organizations that fund Arctic marine research. NPRB staff work closely with the U.S. Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) and the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. As the Arctic IERP was developed, NPRB secured commitments for collaboration from twenty-two existing research projects that were detailed in Appendix A of our request for proposals. NPRB is interested in expanding such collaborations as new research projects are funded.

International researchers are collaborating with the Arctic IERP via the Pacific Arctic Group (PAG) as well as collaborations developed by individual investigators. PAG participants, including researchers from Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States, coordinate to sample standard stations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas termed the Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO), and the Arctic IERP is contributing. Colleagues from Hokkaido University, the Russian Federal Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO), and the Russian Pacific Scientific Fisheries Research Center (TINRO) have expressed interest in collaborating on specific aspects of the Arctic IERP. NPRB will continue to explore opportunities for international collaboration.

Why Study the Arctic?

Arctic research has been ongoing for several decades, yet there is still a clear need for additional studies to better understand the processes driving the Arctic marine ecosystem as a whole—even more so as Arctic sea ice continues to retreat at an increasing rate. Changes in sea ice timing, presence, extent, or thickness will have profound influences on coastal communities, marine mammals, seabirds, fishes, plankton, and oceanography.

For more information about the Arctic marine ecosystem, read the Arctic Program's Implementation Plan.

Implementation Plan

Sheet ice in the arctic at sunset

Photo Credit: Kathy Kuletz

Overall Goal

The goal of the program is to better understand the mechanisms and processes that structure the Arctic marine ecosystem and influence the distribution, life history, and interactions of biological communities in the Chukchi Sea. NPRB is interested in research that addresses phenology and the alignment in space and time of primary production, secondary producers, and upper trophic level predators.

Overarching Question

How will reductions in Arctic sea ice and the associated changes in the physical environmental influence the flow of energy through the ecosystem in the Chukchi Sea?

Specific Research Areas of Interest

Transport, seasonal composition, distribution, and production of phytoplankton, particulate matter, zooplankton, fishes, benthic invertebrates, seabirds, and marine mammals

Timing, magnitude and fate of the primary and secondary productivity

Partitioning/flux of energy between pelagic and benthic realms

Distribution, condition, and standing stocks of large crustacean zooplankton that serve as the prey base for upper trophic level fishes and seabirds

Assemblages, distributions, abundances, and condition of larval and early juvenile fishes that influence the recruitment success of later life stages

Density of marine mammals and seabirds

Human use of and interaction with the marine environment

What We are Studying

The program will integrate observations collected during spring, summer, and fall in 2017, 2018, and 2019 to better understand how reduced Arctic sea ice and associated environmental changes influence the flow of energy through the marine ecosystem from plankton to fish, seabirds, marine mammals, and humans. Late spring and early summer sampling will occur in 2017 and 2018 aboard the R/V Sikuliaq. Late summer and early fall sampling will occur in 2017 and 2019; a research vessel for this portion of the program has not been determined.

Social science will be conducted by a team that includes Principal Investigators from the North Slope and Northwest Arctic Boroughs and the Bering Strait region. This project will develop meaningful interaction with Alaska Native communities to explore changing patterns of access to subsistence resources and food security.


Map of research station locations

A team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks will use the icebreaker Sikuliaq to conduct process studies of oceanography and lower trophic levels during late May-early June as sea ice retreats from the northern Bering and southern Chukchi Seas. They will conduct onboard incubations to measure growth, respiration and deposition rates of phytoplankton and zooplankton and will examine how physical processes structure the Chukchi Sea shelf ecosystem. Moored instruments will record oceanographic conditions and the presence of vocalizing marine mammals in the study area year-round.

Arctic Integrated Ecosystem Survey

Map of research station locations

During summer and fall, a team of scientists led by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will conduct observations of oceanography, lower trophic levels, fish, and seabirds over the U.S. Chukchi Sea shelf from Bering Strait to Barrow. They will examine in detail the physical and ecological factors that influence the distribution of fish.

Coast Guard icebreakers traveling in the arctic ice

Photo Credit: Ethan Roth

Study Regions & Cruises

NPRB defines the southern boundary of the Arctic Large Marine Ecosystem (LME) as Bering Strait and treats the Aleutian Islands/Bering Sea separately. The Arctic Program will adopt the southern boundary of the Chukchi LME as redefined by the Arctic Council PAME working group (PAME 2013) and will include the northern Bering Sea (above 61.5 ° N) as it influences dynamics in the Chukchi Sea, with greater focus on the Bering Strait and Chukchi Sea. The program will include the Arctic basin and Beaufort Sea insofar as processes in the Chukchi Sea are influenced by these adjacent areas.

Each of NPRB's integrated ecosystem research programs involves three distinct phases of operation: assessment, implementation, and synthesis. NPRB initiated the implementation phase of this program in May 2016. In the assessment phase that preceded it, NPRB funded the Pacific Marine Arctic Regional Synthesis (PacMARS) to assess the current state of knowledge and make recommendations to NPRB about the direction of the Arctic IERP. NPRB and the North Pacific Marine Research Institute (NPMRI) coordinated PacMARS in consultation with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of Polar Programs. The $1.5 million-dollar synthesis was funded by Shell and ConocoPhillips. PacMARS was coordinated with the BOEM Synthesis of Arctic Research (SOAR). Several products of PacMARS are available to the public, including a final report, a report on local community input, and an extensive data archive.