Research highlight

Climate Change: A new Arctic marine ecosystem?

Nature Climate Change

February 25, 2020

Changes in the physical and biological characteristics of the Pacific Arctic Ocean may be linked to exceptionally warm years from 2017 - 2019, suggests a paper published in Nature Climate Change .

The Chukchi and northern Bering Seas comprise the Pacific Arctic Ocean. They are highly productive marine shelf areas dominated by the seasonal influence of sea ice. The area is rich in marine and seabird life in the summer months and a major migratory corridor for marine mammals. The Chukchi and northern Bering experienced significant changes during the extremely warm winters between 2017 - 2019; however, it’s unknown whether these changes are anomalies or indicative of future norms.

Henry Huntington and colleagues present physical and biological observations of the Pacific Arctic Ocean from 2017 to 2019, including changes in the ecosystem beginning from 2017. Low sea ice extent and warmer sea temperature caused cascading changes in the biological characteristics of this area. For example, sub-Arctic species inhabited the region during this timeframe. Although ecosystem changes have long been observed in the Pacific Arctic Ocean, 2017 marked a sharp departure from previous observations of species distributions and timings of events.

The authors conclude that the regional marine ecosystem in the Pacific Arctic Ocean may be transforming andfurther research is needed to understand the impact of this change.

doi: 10.1038/s41558-020-0695-2

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