National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2013

Ecosystem response to a temporary sea ice retreat in the Bering Sea: Winter 2009

Miksis-Olds, J.L., P.J. Stabeno, J.M. Napp, A.I. Pinchuk, J.A. Nystuen, J.D. Warren, and S.L. Denes

Prog. Oceanogr., 111, 38–51, doi: 10.1016/j.pocean.2012.10.010 (2013)

Adding acoustic systems onto ocean moorings and observatories provides additional data to more fully document ecosystem responses to environmental perturbations. A passive acoustic recorder and three-frequency echosounder system were integrated into a biophysical mooring on the central eastern Bering Sea continental shelf. An unexpected, transient, mid-winter retreat of the seasonal sea ice was observed over the mooring for a 2-week period in March 2009. Interpretation of the passive acoustic data provided information about sea ice conditions and included the detection and identification of vocalizing marine mammals, while the acoustic backscatter provided information on relative zooplankton and fish abundance before, during, and after the retreat. Hydrographic data confirmed the acoustic signal was associated with changing surface ice conditions, and the combined information from the biophysical mooring sensors revealed changes in winter trophic level dynamics during the retreat, which would have otherwise been undetected by traditional ship-based observations. Changes in the acoustic environment, zooplankton dynamics, and acoustic detection of marine mammals were observed amidst a physically stable and uniform water column with no indication of a phytoplankton bloom. These data demonstrate the value of acoustic technologies to monitor changing ecosystems dynamics in remote and hazardous locations.

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