The BEST Program will address four major areas of inquiry:
- What mechanisms control the linkages between global and regional climate processes
and the physical oceanography of the eastern Bering Sea?
- How does variability in the physical aspects of the marine system affect ecosystem
processes and structure?
- How will changes in ecosystem productivity and structure affect the sustainability of the
marine ecosystems of the eastern Bering Sea?
- In what ways are the social and economic systems that rely on the resources of
the eastern Bering Sea vulnerable to physical and ecological changes in marine
BEST will investigate connections between external forcing mechanisms and hydrographic structure and physical processes. Two major external physical forcing mechanisms dominate the eastern Bering Sea - atmospheric forcing (solar insolation and winds) and transport of water through the Aleutian Passes and Bering Strait. Variability in these forcing mechanisms occurs on all spatial and temporal scales, including local episodic events (storms), interannual variability at the scale of the eastern Bering Sea, and decadal- and climatic-scale events at North Pacific and global scales. Issues of particular importance include resupply of nutrients to the eastern continental shelf, the role of flow through the Bering Strait, and how the location, timing, frequency, and intensity of storms affect shelf ecosystems.
BEST will investigate the connection between physical aspects of the marine environment and the response of the biota of the eastern Bering Sea. Mechanisms of interaction that are particularly important include: 1) stratification of the water column, which affects the availability of light and nutrients needed to support primary production, as well as the vertical distribution of many of the smaller planktonic organisms, 2) sea ice, which affects light, water temerature, and the availability of substrate, and 3) water temperature which affects the rates at which physiological processes occur and is also a habitat variable to which fish respond behaviorally.
The BEST Program will also develop tools for integrating the effects of climate change across spatial and temporal scales, with the goal of forecasting how the ecosystem might be expected to behave under different climate scenarios. It is vital to the future economic and social well being of the region that we understand how processes controlled by climate influence the productivity of the Bering Sea. Thus the goal of the BEST program is to understand and predict the impacts of climate change on the marine ecosystems of the eastern Bering Sea and their sustainability.