Jun 16, 2019 | Updated: 11:54 AM EDT

Vanishing Ice in Bering Sea Threatens US Food Resource

Jun 03, 2019 01:49 PM EDT

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Bering Sea
(Photo : James Wheeler)
Bering Sea

In Early 2018, a blanket of ice was expected to cover much of Bering Sea's eastern part between the borders of Russia and Alaska. However, when it did not, James Overland, an oceanographer looked into the deviation.

Overland's analysis reveals that the deviation for the projection was a very rare phenomenon but is still possible at a small degree. However, when the expected blanket of ice did not cover the area once again by 2019, the oceanographer had to do more in-depth research.

According to scientists, the ice from late winter has fallen to the lowest levels in the last four decades.
Now, studies are being conducted to find out if this is just a meteorological coincidence or if the phenomenon is brought forth by climate change as well.

"We are not ruling out that this might mean a new regime over the Bering Sea," Overland said.
Overland works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), particularly in the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) in Washington.

Experts worry that if the shift continues, it could greatly affect the nation's most valuable resource of fisheries and other kinds of seafood. It could transform the region in ways that the indigenous people, whose whole life is dependent on the ice, might not be able to cope with. Scientists who are currently doing research in the area have already identified changes in the life cycle of algae, as well as fish, zooplankton, and even the population of the seabirds.

The shift that is happening in the Bering Sea may serve as a warning. "Such changes could happen abruptly," stated Robert Foy, the research director in the Juneau-based Science Center for the NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

In the past, the ice extends from the Bering Strait going southward almost reaching the Aleutian Islands. It expands to an area that is bigger than the state of Texas. However, things have become different in the last two winters when the ice peaked at its lowest levels, as compared to its previous data that was gathered since 1978. In 2018, it was recorded that the ice levels have only covered 50% of the usual expanse while this year it was only at 65%.

The decline of the ice sheet coverage came as a surprise. The climate models available in the computers predicted otherwise. However, the unexpected shifts in the direction of the wind as well as the rising temperatures in the ocean waters could be contributing factors to the rapid acceleration of ice loss.

The massive "cold pool" in the Bering Sea attracts fish that are commercially valuable. In 2018, the amount of fish resource in the area has become relatively smaller, perhaps because of the current problem in melting ice sheets.

Experts pointed out that if the decrease in ice levels continues, not only will it affect the country economically, but it could bring about problems such as shortage of seafood.

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