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New Bering Sea climate change project focuses on fish, management strategies

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Posted August 31, 2015

As a subarctic, seasonally ice-filled ocean that produces about 40 percent of the nation’s annual fish catch, the Bering Sea is of particular interest to researchers as the climate changes and forces wildlife and fishing practices to adapt.

A catch of juvenile pollock during a research cruise. Image credit: Johanna Vollenweider and David Csepp

A catch of juvenile pollock during a research cruise. Image credit: Johanna Vollenweider and David Csepp

The UW is a partner in a new effort to understand how changes to the Bering Sea’s biophysical environment — such as temperature, salinity, currents, nutrients and plankton — may impact fish stocks and fishing practices as the climate warms. Scientists from the UW’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean along with NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center and the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory will produce various projections of what the Bering Sea ecosystem will look like under different climate and fishing scenarios.

“One of the reasons the Bering Sea is receiving attention is because the climate change signal is very strong here,” said Wei Cheng, an oceanographer with JISAO and one of the study’s co-investigators. “We know the seasonal sea ice will diminish over time — so what are the consequences on sea life?”

The new $750,000 study spans three years and is funded by NOAA. The UW scientists will work to provide regional “downscaling,” which is taking large-scale environmental changes projected by global climate models and applying those changes in the Bering Sea on much finer spatial scales.

Researchers say this new project is a “much expanded version” of previous work, bringing in more global projections to inform a larger number of regional simulations showing how the Bering Sea ecosystem could be different in the future.

The new project also includes building a wider variety of fisheries models that will help manage species that are important to commercial fishing — like pollock and Pacific cod — under changing ocean conditions.

“Our fisheries colleagues will use the output from these models to explore the outcomes of various management strategies, and that helps identify which strategy might be more effective in the face of slowly changing conditions as we’re expected to have with global climate change,” said Albert Hermann, a co-investigator from JISAO.

NOAA Fisheries plans to share the results of this project with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for its 2021 report on the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems and coastal communities. Researchers hope the project’s framework and design will help inform other efforts around the world to model for future ocean conditions.

Source: University of Washington

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