National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2004

Is the climate of the Bering Sea warming and affecting the ecosystem?

Overland, J.E., and P.J. Stabeno

Eos Trans. AGU, 85(33), 309–312, doi: 10.1029/2004EO330001 (2004)

Observations from the Bering Sea are good indicators of decadal shifts in climate, as the Bering is a transition region between the cold, dry Arctic air mass to the north, and the moist, relatively warm maritime air mass to the south. The Bering Sea is also a transition region between Arctic and sub-Arctic ecosystems; this boundary can be loosely identified with the extent of winter sea-ice cover.

Like a similar transition zone in the eastern North Atlantic [Beaugrand et al., 2002], the Bering Sea is experiencing a northward biogeographical shift in response to changing temperature and atmospheric forcing. If this shift continues over the next decade, it will have major impacts on commercial and subsistence harvests as Arctic species are displaced by sub-Arctic species. The stakes are enormous, as this rich and diverse ecosystem currently provides 47% of the U.S. fishery production by weight, and is home to 80% of the U.S. sea bird population, 95% of northern fur seals, and major populations of Steller sea lions, walrus, and whales.

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