Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Bering Sea ecosystem responding to changes in Arctic climate

10.03.2006


Effects could extend from base of food chain to native hunters



Physical changes--including rising air and seawater temperatures and decreasing seasonal ice cover--appear to be the cause of a series of biological changes in the northern Bering Sea ecosystem that could have long-range and irreversible effects on the animals that live there and on the people who depend on them for their livelihoods.

In a paper published March 10 in the journal Science, a team of U.S. and Canadian researchers use data from long-term observations of physical properties and biological communities to conclude that previously documented physical changes in the Arctic in recent years are profoundly affecting Arctic life.


The northern Bering Sea provides critical habitat for large populations of sea ducks, gray whales, bearded seals and walruses, all of which depend on small bottom-dwelling creatures for sustenance. These bottom-dwellers, in turn, are accustomed to colder water temperatures and long periods of extensive sea ice cover.

However, "a change from arctic to sub-arctic conditions is under way in the northern Bering Sea," according to the researchers, and is causing a shift toward conditions favoring both water-column and bottom-feeding fish and other animals that until now have stayed in more southerly, warmer sea waters.

As a result, the ranges of region’s typical inhabitants can be expected to move northward and away from the small, isolated Native communities on the Bering Sea coast that subsist on the animals.

"We’re seeing that a change in the physical conditions is driving a change in the ecosystems," said Jackie Grebmeier, a researcher at the University of Tennessee and one of the paper’s co-authors.

Grebmeier said the new report is unusual in that it looks at the potential effects of a changing climate in the Arctic primarily through a life-sciences lens, rather than an analysis of the physics of climate change. "It’s a biology driven, integrated look at what’s going," Grebmeier said.

Grebmeier is chief scientist for the Western Shelf-Basin Interactions (SBI) research project, which conducted a series of research cruises to observe changes in the carbon balance of the offshore areas of the Alaskan Arctic and their effects on the food chain. The cruises included a number of researchers supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other federal agencies.

NSF and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) jointly funded SBI.

NSF and NOAA also funded U.S. researchers who contributed data collected by the Bering Strait Environmental Observatory, which annually samples waters in the northern Bering Sea to assess the biological status of productive animal communities on the sea floor.

Those highly productive waters currently act as sponges for carbon dioxide, absorbing quantities of the gas that otherwise would remain in the atmosphere where it would be expected to contribute to warming. But, the researchers say, if the biological trends they observe in the northern Bering Sea persist and are not reversible, the accompanying shift in species and ecosystem structure could have important implications for the role of the sea as a "carbon sink."

James Overland, a co-author of the paper and an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) in Seattle, added that the changes researchers are observing are not uniform throughout the Bering Sea. But both are tied to the nature of the sea ice.

"The northern Bering Sea ecosystem is changing as well as that in the southeast," he said. "In the southeast, fish population and (bottom-dweller) changes are happening in the context of a complete loss of sea ice. But in the northern Bering Sea, ecological changes are occurring in the context of shifts in the quality of the sea ice. The ice there is broken and thin compared with ice floes that were more the norm."

Satellite observations and other measurements, for example, combined with observations of native Yupik hunters, confirm that sea ice extent and thickness have become greatly reduced in recent years.

Also, observations by scientists on the SBI research cruises in 2004--scheduled for publication in a separate report in the journal Aquatic Mammals--confirm that walrus mothers were leaving their pups when sea ice the animals normally use as a summer resting platform retreated to the north.

Shifts in fish populations have also been observed, including the appearance much farther north of juvenile pink salmon in rivers that drain into the Arctic Ocean. Salmon feed on pollock, a species that is beginning to appear in larger numbers in the northern Bering Sea, possibly in response to warmer ocean temperatures.

"What we are seeing," Grebmeier concluded, "is a change in the boundary between the sub-Arctic and the Arctic ecosystem. The potential is real for an ecosystem shift that will be felt father north."

But, Overland noted, continued observations are needed to fully understand the scope and potential permanence of the changes. "Both physical and biological indicators need to be watched closely over the next few years to track the persistence of changes in the context of natural variability," he said.

Peter West | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov
http://www.noaa.gov
http://www.tennessee.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>