The high latitude Sub-Arctic seas (Norwegian/Barents Sea, Labrador Sea, and Bering Sea) are characterized by high biological productivity and the seasonal presence of sea ice (Hunt and Drinkwater, 2005). Differences in physiography and orientation or exposure to dominant forcing mechanisms help to determine the ecology of these areas (Bailey et al., 2003; Ciannelli and Bailey, 2005; Stabeno et al., 2006; Drinkwater et al., 2009; Mueter et al., 2009). In the last decade, global temperatures have reached some of the highest levels recorded and projections of future (after 2030) temperature suggest that the greatest rates of change will be at high latitudes (IPCC, 2007). Temperature changes have also affected the distribution of groundfishes in the eastern Bering (Mueter and Litzow, 2008) and in the North seas (Perry et al. 2005). Increases in global temperatures have begun to affect the areal extent, concentration, and thickness of ice in both the polar regions and in the Sub-Arctic seas (IPCC, 2007). It is imperative that we understand the role played by physical mechanisms in arctic ecosystems, including how sea ice impacts the structure, function, and productivity of these ecosystems.
The eastern Bering Sea supports productive marine ecosystems and extraordinarily rich marine resources. These resources include vast numbers of marine birds and mammals, including federally protected species, and productive commercial stocks that generate more than 40% of all fish and shellfish landings in the United States. These fisheries employ local and itinerant fishers, processors and distributors, within and outside the region. The Bering Sea is also directly or indirectly the source of over 25 million pounds of subsistence foods used by nearly 55,000 local residents, primarily Alaskan Natives in small rural communities (BEST, 2004). Recent climate-related influences in the Bering Sea have demonstrated the vulnerability of the marine ecosystem to potential impacts of climate change (e.g., Napp & Hunt, 2001; Schumacher et al., 2003; Hunt et al., 2010, In Press). As the Bering Sea responds to variations in climate, its ability to provide the resources on which these people depend may change.