NOAA’s Barrow Atmospheric Baseline Observatory is located 8 km northeast of the City of Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow) and very near the northernmost point of the U.S.
The Bering Sea is the third largest semi-enclosed sea in the world and forms the transition between the subarctic North Pacific Ocean and the Arctic Ocean. This article focuses on the eastern shelf, which has an exceptionally productive ecosystem, supporting large numbers of seabirds and marine mammals, subsistence harvests for native communities across Alaska, and more than 40% of the annual U.S. catch of fish and shellfish.
The Bering Sea is home to over 70 Indigenous communities of the Iñupiat, Central Yup’ik, Cup’ik, St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Unangan, and Chukchi Peoples. We are peoples of the world’s richest sea. We study the ocean and weather as a way of life, as a means for survival. The Bering Sea is undergoing changes that have never been observed in our lifetimes, but were foreseen by our elders decades ago.
As we watch the ongoing rapid loss of Arctic sea ice, freshwater ice, permafrost, and spring snow cover, the corresponding amplified warming of the Arctic region (AAW) continues to increase. These disturbing changes to a key component of the Earth’s climate system has spawned a blizzard of new studies that reveal influences of AAW on weather patterns within and beyond the Arctic.
Warming air temperatures and associated major reductions in the Arctic sea ice cover are driving increases in ocean temperature and changes to circulation patterns in the region. These changes are expected to impact the biogeographic boundaries of a range of marine species. For example, it is anticipated that many organisms may migrate northward or become more abundant as air and ocean temperatures continue to warm. However, few pose such significant threats to human and ecosystem health as harmful algal bloom (HAB) species.
The Arctic Ocean is presently experiencing changes in ocean temperature and sea ice extent that are unprecedented in the observational time period. To provide context for the current changes, scientists turn to paleo records of past climate to document and study natural variability in the Arctic system. Paleoceanographic records that extend limited Arctic instrumental measurements are central to improving our understanding of sea ice dynamics and ocean warming and for enhancing the predictive capability of models. By coupling paleoceanographic records with modern observations, scientists can also contextualize the rate and magnitude of modern change with the deep past.
Shortly after the beginning of the 21st Century, the Arctic began an environmental transition so extensive that it caught scientists, policymakers, and residents by surprise. The extent and duration of these transitions defines the New Arctic, characterized by the lowest winter maximum in sea ice cover on record for 2017, the persistent and record warming of sea surface temperatures across the Arctic, and the downward trend in total ice mass of the Greenland ice sheet, just to name a few. The unprecedented rate and global reach of these changes highlight the pressing need to prepare for and adapt to the New Arctic.
The Arctic is an integral part of the larger Earth system where multiple interactions unite its natural and human components. As is amply demonstrated in each annual installment of the Arctic Report Card, the domain is collectively experiencing rapid and amplified signatures of global climate change. At the same time, the Arctic system’s response to this broader forcing has, itself, become a central research topic, given its potential role as a critical throttle on future planetary dynamics (NRC 2013, 2014). Changes are already impacting life systems, cultures and economic prosperity and continued change is expected to bear major implications far outside the region (ACIA 2005, AMAP 2012, IPCC 2013, Cohen et al. 2014). Ongoing assessments of how the system is wired-together and how sensitive its environment is to change suggest that there are important interconnections and possible feedbacks but these remain highly uncertain (Francis et al. 2009a; Hinzman et al. 2013). We have entered an era when environmental management, traditionally local in scope, must confront regional, whole biome, and pan-Arctic challenges but also requires policy development that crosses scales and boundaries from villages to international partnerships.