Photo Credit: Chris Linder

About the Project

Background

The Bering Sea Project, a partnership between the North Pacific Research Board and the National Science Foundation, seeks to understand the impacts of climate change and dynamic sea ice cover on the eastern Bering Sea ecosystem.

More than one hundred scientists engaged in field research and ecosystem modeling to link climate, physical oceanography, plankton, fishes, seabirds, marine mammals, humans, traditional knowledge and economic outcomes to better understand the mechanisms that sustain this highly productive region.

The Bering Sea Project is a collaborative team effort, led by an elected group of six scientists working together with NPRB and NSF program managers. We invite you to explore these webpages to learn more about the Bering Sea Project's hypotheses, focal areas of study, integrated goals, participants, and ecological and social context.  Visit the publications page for an up-to-date library of emerging peer-reviewed results.  Or contact the program managers with any questions or for more information.

Ecologically, economically, and culturally, the eastern Bering Sea and its more than 30 coastal communities are of great importance. Characterized by an extensive seasonal sea-ice advance and retreat (ca. 1700km), this diverse and highly productive shelf ecosystem provides approximately 40% of the US commercial fisheries catch with a value exceeding $3 billion annually. After processing, the Bering Sea provides not only more than half of the wild-caught seafood consumed in the United States but also three-quarters of the subsistence harvest that supports 55,000 Alaskan natives and others living in coastal communities. Many of these communities have existed around the Bering Sea for centuries and have important cultural links to the ecosystem and its dynamics. 

Download Conceptual Framework

Photo Credit: Chris Linder

What We Studied

The Bering Sea Project examined the fish, seabirds, marine mammals, and people sustained by the Bering Sea. The project was built around five major hypotheses consisting of 44 unique studies, which provided a framework for collaboration and synthesis.

Photo Credit: Simone Welch

Physical Forcing Affects Food Availability

Climate-induced changes in physical forcing will modify the availability and partitioning of food for all trophic levels through bottom-up processes.

Photo Credit: Caitlin McKinstry

Driving from the Bottom-up

Climate and ocean conditions influencing water temperature, circulation patterns, and domain boundaries impact fish reproduction, survival and distribution, the intensity of predator-prey relationships, and the location of zoogeographic provinces through bottom-up processes.

Photo Credit: Glenn Aronwits

Ecosystem Controls are Dynamic

Later spring phytoplankton blooms resulting from early ice retreat will increase zooplankton production, thereby leading to increased abundances of piscivorous fish (walleye pollock, Pacific cod, and arrowtooth flounder) and a community controlled by top-down processes with several trophic consequences.

Photo Credit: Ryan Soderlund

Location Matters

Climate and ocean conditions influencing circulation patterns and domain boundaries will affect the distribution, frequency, and persistence of fronts and other prey-concentrating features and, thus, the foraging success of marine birds and mammals largely through bottom-up processes.

Photo Credit: Brian Dixon

Fisheries Reflect Climate

Climate-ocean conditions will change and, thus, affect the abundance and distribution of commercial and subsistence fisheries.

 

Photo Credit: John Schwieder

Study Region

The Bering Sea Project research took place on the eastern Bering Sea shelf between the Aleutian Islands and St. Lawrence Island. The Bering Sea is an extraordinarily productive marine ecosystem. The Bering Sea region supplies food resources for the commercial fishing industry, as well as for more than 30 Alaska Native communities, millions of seabirds, and tens of thousands of marine mammals. This production is fueled by nutrients annually replenished from slope and oceanic waters across the very broad (>500 km) continental shelf.

Integrated ecosystem research projects are ambitious, requiring collaborative efforts from experts in various disciplines of marine biology and oceanography, data managers, vessel crew, marine educators, and support staff. Over 45 different researchers were involved in GOAIERP, and with the help of Axiom Science, they were able to exchange, share, and upload data to one another. With such a large team, GOAIERP also required responsible program oversight, leadership, and communication from the Gulf of Alaska Board of Investigators (GABI) and NPRB staff.

Meet the Team

Photo Credit: Glenn Aronwits

Funding

Major direct funding was provided by the National Science Foundation ("Bering Ecosystem Study"; ~$26M) and the North Pacific Research Board ("Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Program", BSIERP; ~$16M). Substantial in-kind support (~$15M) was provided by program participants. The Bering Sea Project originated in novel, coordinated calls for proposals by the NSF and NPRB.  Proposals were reviewed by a joint NSF-NPRB science panel, and funding was awarded based on responsiveness to both the NSF or NPRB call for proposals and also responsiveness to the fully integrated program as envisioned in the BSIERP and the 2005 Bering Ecosystem Study implementation plan. 

Program History

The Bering Sea Project was founded upon the implementation and science plans for the Bering Ecosystem Study (‘‘BEST’’) supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (‘‘BSIERP’’) supported by the North Pacific Research Board (NPRB). The overarching goal of the two programs was to increase our understanding of the processes that maintain the structure and function of the Bering Sea marine ecosystem, and to learn how natural and anthropogenic variation in sea ice and other physical forcing mechanisms may produce natural, economic, sociological and cultural impacts to the ecosystem.

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