Bering Sea Breakout Session

Discussion Leaders: Alan Springer and James Overland
Participants: Vera Alexander, Hal Batchelder, Paul Bentzen, Ned Cokelet, Dan Costa, Tina Willie Echeveriia, Robert Francis, George Hunt, Evelyn Lessard, Patricia Livingston, Richard Merrick, Kate Myers, Jeff Napp, Thomas Powell, James Schumacher, Gary Sharp, Phyllis Stabeno, Gordon Swartzman, Vidar Wespestad, Anne York


The Bering Sea shelf is possibly the most productive of the northern high latitude seas. The foundation is a greenbelt of primary productivity in excess of 200 gC m-2 yr-1 extending over the outer 200 km of the shelf. This region supports some of the worlds largest stocks of fish. For example the biomass of the walleye pollock stock is estimated to be approximately 10 million metric tons. Likewise, the largest runs of salmon in the U.S. is the Bristol Bay sockeye run. The region has historically supported large populations of marine mammals and seabirds. The benthos of the Bering Shelf is also productive, supporting large populations of King crab, flatfish and a variety of infauna.

The Bering Sea is an appropriate region in which to study the potential effects of climate change on carrying capacity. There is a rich background of long term monitoring studies of northern fur seal and marine birds at the Pribilof Islands; fisheries catches for numerous species in the eastern Bering Sea; and process studies of the determinants of production and the linkage of production to interannual variation in weather patterns (PROBES and ISHTAR). These studies provide a basis for developing additional process oriented studies for extrapolating the effects of short term changes in weather to longer term climate changes.

The SE Bering Sea has the following characteristics:

Breakout Discussions

First order understanding of the Bering Sea has been obtained by previous repeated surveys and process oriented studies (e.g., PROBES, Bering Sea FOCI). What is needed now is to quantify the causality between the magnitude of environmental change and the response of the system. The natural variability of the system is large so that it may be possible to find historical analogs of climate change. The primary question is how does climate variability modulate the high productivity of the Bering Sea? Specifically, storm tracks and extent of seasonal ice edge are known to vary on a 7-15 yr cycle, will a climate shift in storm tracks alter the distribution of energy between the pelagic and benthic components of the SE Bering Sea shelf ecosystem? The following research issues have been noted qualitatively. What is required is quantified answers to the following questions.


We recommend activities in the areas of retrospective, modeling, process studies and monitoring. An initial approach should be to identify key species in the production and transfer of energy in the ecosystem, identify species sensitive to change in production at lower trophic levels, and develop studies around those species.

Retrospective Studies

Modeling/Ecosystem Interaction Studies

Process Oriented Studies

Monitoring/Lower Trophic Level Response

Monitoring/Higher Trophic Level Response