One of Alaska's premier marine research funding institutions

Photo Credit: Andrew Trites

About the Science

Bering Sea commercial fishing fleet

Photo Credit: Mark Rauzon

Supporting Research in the North Pacific

The marine ecosystems off Alaska (the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, and Arctic Ocean) are some of the most productive regions in the world, supporting abundant populations of fish, seabirds, and marine mammals, and providing over 40% of U.S. commercial fish landings. Yet these marine environments are changing both spatially and temporally. An ice-free Arctic Ocean, for example, has now become a plausible reality. Resource managers must have the knowledge necessary to protect and conserve these rich and biologically diverse ecosystems over the long term. This will require a comprehensive understanding of their components and natural variability, and how they are affected by human activities, especially commercial fisheries. Through NPRB supported research, there is opportunity to better understand and forecast marine ecosystem change, and how these changes impact fisheries dynamics.

Scientific Premise

NPRB recognizes three overarching premises with respect to broad ecosystem change. They provide the scientific foundation for specific NPRB research needs and strategies.

Natural variability in the physical environment influences trophic structure and overall productivity.

Human impacts superimpose additional changes, including increased levels of contaminants, habitat alterations, and increased mortality of certain species that may initiate ecosystem changes.

Natural and/or human-induced changes affect people who live and work in the region, forcing adaptation to the changing environment, ecosystem, and management schemes.

Research Approaches

NPRB applies these general types of research approaches to each research program.


Process studies




Integration of natural and social science methods




Retrospective studies


Multidisciplinary and integrated ecosystem-based research

Scientific Foundation

At the core of NPRB's Science Plan are three scientific foundations that reflect current understanding of large marine ecosystems, the processes that make them so dynamic, and how humans affect and are effected by ecosystem change.

Aerial photograph of Alaska coastline

Photo Credit: Bill Scott

Large Marine Ecosystems

The geographic regions that NPRB has identified as specific research regions comprise several large marine ecosystems (LMEs), each having a suite of features (bathymetry, regional wind fields, hydrography, sea ice, circulation, and productivity) within which marine populations have adapted strategies for growth and survival. These regions include the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, and Arctic Ocean—delineations that correspond to similar NOAA's LME descriptions.

waves crashing on Alaska beach

Photo Credit: Chris Floyd

Ecosystem Dynamics

Alaska's marine LMEs are interconnected via bathymetric and oceanographic features. However, there are major differences in current structures and sea-ice cover, for example, between them. How atmospheric and climatic conditions influence physical and chemical attributes of each LME provide the foundation for food web dynamics and natural forcing of upper/lower trophic level species. Better understanding of the processes that impact these LMEs must be explored. 

researchers collecting marine debris

Photo Credit: Erik Pallister

Human Dimensions

How will stakeholders who depend upon marine resources from these LMEs be impacted by ecosystem change? Commercial and subsistence use, livelihoods, and quality of life are all affected by natural and human perturbations of Alaska's marine ecosystems. Changes in species composition, abundance, quality, or distribution can have economic and social impacts, particularly in coastal communities. Research supported by NPRB provides managers and planners with data to address these issues. 

Integrated Ecosystem Research—The Ultimate Challenge

NPRB supports large-scale interdisciplinary ecosystem-based research. This requires multiple agency coordination, collaboration, and investigation of a broad suite of research centered on a specific large marine ecosystem. For each Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (IERP) there is a primary research focus, with connections to each NRPB topic area (see below). Since 2002, NPRB has supported a Bering Sea and a Gulf of Alaska IERP. NPRB launched an Arctic IERP in 2016.

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Research Programs

Through a competitive proposal process, NPRB supports peer-reviewed scientific research in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, and the Arctic Ocean ecosystems. There are four scientific programmatic approaches:

Core Program

Long Term Monitoring Program

Integrated Ecosystem Research Programs

Graduate Student Research Awards

Research Themes

NPRB places a priority on research that addresses pressing fishery management issues and important ecosystem information needs. This research can be further subdivided into the following research themes.

Other Research Approaches

Fishermen setting net off bowpicker

Photo Credit: Carl Johnson

Cooperative Research

Cooperative research with commercial fishing industries and the oil and gas industry provide opportunities to engage with knowledgeable stakeholders who share common initiatives with marine resources and sustainability. Since 2007, NPRB has included a specific call for cooperative research with industry in its annual request for proposals. Industry provide invaluable field experience, practical knowledge and expertise, and platforms for collecting data. They are expert at deploying their gear and are able to increase their efficiencies and lessen their impact on important marine resources.

Alaska native elders at camp

Photo Credit: Ann Fienup-Riordan

Local & Traditional Knowledge

Local and traditional knowledge (LTK) refers to an array of information, understanding, and wisdom accumulated over time based on experience and often shared within a group or community. This knowledge may be the product of an individual’s time on the land or sea (local knowledge) or accumulated over generations, perpetuated within a culture (traditional knowledge). It may offer new perspectives and paradigms for understanding the marine ecosystem, and greater involvement of those who live and work in the area. LTK is an important piece to each of NPRB's research programs.

Community volunteers working with shorebird biologist

Photo Credit: Julia Parrish

Community Involvement

NPRB aims to support research that is useful to those who live and work in the regions of study. Effective community involvement provides a substantive role in helping shape NPRB activities—from informing research priorities to program guidance. Community involvement describes not simply the flow of information, but the relationship between communities and NPRB. 

This Science Plan provides the scientific foundation and direction for the North Pacific Research Board for the next decade, serving as the primary reference point for the design and implementation of all NPRB funding programs and activities. This second iteration of the plan updates and streamlines the original plan, previously developed with guidance from the National Research Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and approved in 2005. The Science Plan lays out NPRB’s mission, research priorities, programs, partnerships, policies and procedures. Immediate research needs and priorities are updated on a regular basis through the release of RFPs related to four existing programs – the Core, Integrated Ecosystem Research, Long-Term Monitoring, and Graduate Student Research Awards Programs – and reflected in any new programs the Board may adopt. The Board will identify research needs and priorities for each program specific RFP, soliciting  advice from its science and advisory panels, as well as other stakeholders. As an evolving document, it is anticipated that the Science Plan will be updated every ten years.

NPRB Science Plan thumbnail

Publication Library

Over the past decade, NPRB has supported two large Integrated Ecosystem Research Projects (IERPs) and more than 380 individual research projects through the Annual Research Program. The result of this body of research is the production of over 580 peer-reviewed publications. To search our publication library, click on the button below. Users may search by project number, publication title, author, and more.