The offshore northeastern Chukchi Sea: a complex high-latitude system

We conducted an interdisciplinary ecological study in and near 3 nearby proposed exploratory oil and gas prospects in the offshore northeastern Chukchi Sea during the open-water seasons of 2008–2010. This region exhibits a classical pelagic–benthic dichotomy of food-web structure in ecological function. The Klondike study area borders the eastern edge of the Central Channel and functions as a pelagic-dominated ecosystem, whereas the Burger study area lies south of Hanna Shoal and functions as a benthic-dominated ecosystem. The Statoil study area, which is located north of Klondike and northwest of Burger, has both pelagic and benthic attributes, although it is more like Burger than like Klondike. Klondike has lower benthic density and biomass, a higher biomass of oceanic zooplankton, and more fishes and planktivorous seabirds than does Burger, which has benthic communities with high density and biomass, primarily neritic zooplankton, and higher densities of benthic-feeding marine mammals than Klondike; Statoil has characteristics of both ecosystems. Patterns of sea-ice retreat vary interannually; in some years, much of the northeastern Chukchi is ice-free by mid-May, leading to pelagic and ice-edge phytoplankton blooms, whereas heavy ice cover in other years leads to substantial within-ice production. The characteristics of this region during the open-water season are not consistent among years, in that Bering Sea Water impinges onto all study areas only in some years, resulting in interannual variation in the distribution and abundance of zooplankton, planktivorous seabirds, and pelagic-feeding seals. These interannual variations alter several aspects of this pelagic–benthic dichotomy, and some aspects of this region suggest unusual structure (e.g., replacement of benthic-feeding fishes in some areas by predatory invertebrates, a lack of benthic-feeding seaducks).

Day, R. H., et al. 2013. The offshore northeastern Chukchi Sea: a complex high-latitude system. Continental Shelf Research 67: 147–165.

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