National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2012

Comparison of warm and cold years on the southeastern Bering Sea shelf and some implications for the ecosystem

Stabeno, P.J., N.B. Kachel, S.E. Moore, J.M. Napp, M. Sigler, A. Yamaguchi, and A.N. Zerbini

Deep-Sea Res. II, 65–70, 31–45, doi: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2012.02.020 (2012)

The southeastern, middle shelf of the Bering Sea has exhibited extreme variability in sea ice extent, temperature, and the distribution and abundance of species at multiple trophic levels over the past four decades. From 1972–2000, there was high interannual variability of areal extent of sea ice during spring (March – April). In 2000, this shifted to a 5-year (2001–2005) period of low ice extent during spring, which transitioned to a 4-year (2007–2010) period of extensive sea ice. High (low) areal extent of sea ice in spring was associated with cold (warm) water column temperatures for the following 6–7 months. The ocean currents also differed between warm and cold years. During cold years, the monthly-mean currents over the shelf were largely westward, while in warm years the direction of currents was more variable, with northward flow during December – February and relatively weak flow during the remainder of the year. The types and abundance of zooplankton differed sharply between warm and cold years. This was especially true during the prolonged warm period (2001–2005) and cold period (2007–2010), and was less evident during the years of high interannual variability. During the warm period, there was a lack of large copepods and euphausiids over the shelf; however, their populations rebounded during cold period. Small crustacean zooplankton taxa did not appear to vary between and warm and cold years. For both walleye pollock and Pacific cod, year-class strength (recruitment) was low during the prolonged warm period, but improved during the following cold period. Year-class strength did not appear to vary as a function of warm and cold years during the period of high year-to-year variability. Also, recruitment of arrowtooth flounder (a predator of pollock and cod) did not appear influenced by the warm or cold years. Finally, the distribution and relative abundance of fin whales appeared to differ in warm and cold years, with fewer whales on the southeastern, middle shelf during warm years.

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