Bering Sea region focus of recent papers on climate risk to northern communities

The American Island of Little Diomede, Alaska, left, and behind it on the right, the Russian island of Big Diomede, pictured in 2017. Environmental change and sea ice loss is transforming the lives of subsistence hunters in the region. (David Goldman/AP via The Canadian Press)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a U.S. scientific agency, released it’s annual Arctic report card this month, warning that the warming atmosphere and declining sea ice are increasingly putting northern communities at risk.

“The Arctic marine ecosystem and the communities that depend upon it continue to experience unprecedented changes as a result of warming air temperatures, declining sea ice, and warming waters,” the NOAA said. 

In the 2019 report, the agency singled out the Bering Sea, bracketed on one side by Russia, and the other side by the American state of Alaska, as a region that’s becoming increasingly affected.

There, the southern shelf experienced record-breaking temperatures. In the northern Bering Shelf, the bottom temperatures “…exceeded 4°C for the first time in November 2018.”

Regional elders speak out

The Bering region includes around 70 Indigenous communities in all.

They include Inupiat, Central Yup’ik, Cup’ik, St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Unangan and Chukchi Peoples.

The 2019 report card included a chapter titled “Voices from the Front Lines of a Changing Bering Sea” written after a two-day workshop in Alaska with where 10 elders from eight communities to contribute to the NOAA report.

“Global climate change is one of the many forces beyond our control that are threatening the entire Bering Sea food chain, of which we are a part,” the elders say in the chapter.

“Record-breaking temperatures, reduction in sea ice, and lack of snow are impacting our marine animals, fish, sea birds, and ecosystem as a whole. The evidence exists along our coastlines, in our waters, and is revealed through the hardships we face in bringing harvests home to our families and communities.”


The report card  was released the same week as a paper titled “The Record Lower Bering Sea Ice Extent in 2018: Context, Impacts, and an Assessment of the Role of Anthropogenic Climate Change,” published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

In that study, the authors looked at Arctic sea ice extent records going back to1850 and compared them to their study period of January to April 2018. The found that sea ice in the Bering Sea shrank to its lowest levels in recorded history in 2018.

“This is an extreme event with immediate and long-lasting repercussions,” said lead author Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, a news release.

“It’s indicative of very rapid change in the entire northern Bering Sea ecosystem. It has ramifications for everyone in the region.”

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  2019 shaping up to be the second or third warmest year on record, says WMO provisional report, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Warmer, drier summer than usual in most of Finland, Yle News

Greenland: Greenlanders stay chill as the world reacts to their heatwave, CBC News

Iceland: Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calls for climate action at Arctic Circle assembly, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Warm winter expected across the Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: IPCC climate report warns “extreme sea level events” will occur frequently, Radio Sweden

United States: The Arctic shipping route no one is talking about, Cryopolitics Blog

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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