There is growing interest in the ecology of the Chukchi Sea, given the ongoing changes in sea ice extent and the increasing duration of this Arctic gateway's open-water season. With these changes come new opportunities: much of the northeastern Chukchi, where oil exploration occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s, now lies within the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's (BOEM) Oil and Gas Lease Sale 193 that occurred in early 2008. After a hiatus of 20 years, oil exploration has now resumed with a partial hole drilled during the summer of 2012 by Shell Exploration and Production Company and with drilling into the hydrocarbon-bearing zone now proposed to occur in the summer of 2014. These factors have greatly stimulated scientific activities in the northeastern Chukchi over the past 6 years, and we now are poised for the first time to understand both its dynamics and it scales of variability. The Chukchi Sea has a somewhat unusual and precarious position. During the winter, the Chukchi Sea's environment is similar to other Arctic continental shelves, in that it is ice-covered. However, for much of the year, the Chukchi functions as a northward extension of the Bering Sea, with essentially all productivity and much of the biota advected into the region from the Bering; consequently, “when the Bering sneezes, the Chukchi catches a cold”. Given that the Chukchi is the only conduit between the North Pacific Ocean and the Arctic Ocean, this adage can be extended to the North Pacific. In addition, the Chukchi is unusual because it is an enormous shallow arctic sea, as opposed to a deep arctic sea such as the inflowing Barents Sea (Hunt et al., 2013). Similar to what is being seen elsewhere in Arctic Alaska (e.g., Grebmeier et al., 2006; Overland and Wang, 2010), the Chukchi appears to be undergoing ecological shift as a result of climate change. Consequently, there is urgency to describe the main features of an ecosystem that is beginning to change ecologically at the same time that it is beginning to be exposed to offshore oil and gas exploration. Finally, the Chukchi is of inherent interest because of its position between the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean and its surprising productivity for such a high-arctic system.
Hopcroft, R. R., and R. H. Day. 2013. Introduction to the Special Issue on “The ecology of the northeastern Chukchi Sea.” Continental Shelf Research 67: 1–4. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.csr.2013.06.017>