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Year-to-year variations in Bering Sea ice cover and some consequences for fish distributions

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The southernmost extension of winter ice cover varies interannually and on longer time scales, reflecting large-scale changes in driving forces, especially in the position and intensity of the winter Aleutian Low Pressure System. A conspicuous pattern is alternating warm and cool periods of several years' duration. These variations in sea ice cover are reflected in the character of a subsurface cold pool, formed as stratification isolates the deeper cold waters from surface exchanges. The cold pool is better developed and more extensive in summers that follow deep southward penetration of winter sea ice. Interannual and decadal-scale variations in the distributions of some fish stocks reflect those of ice and thermal conditions. In particular, the distribution of walleye pollock, Theragra chalcogramma, varies significantly with multiannual cool and warm years while Arctic cod, Boreogadus saida, is only present within the cold pool. The relation among climate variations, sea ice cover, subsurface thermal conditions, and fish distribution provides information on how climate affects marine ecosystems and may also have practical application in predicting fish distributions.

Keywords: Aleutian Low Pressure System; Arctic cod; cold pool; decadal variability; sea ice; walleye pollock

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Oceans, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA 98105 2: School of Marine Affairs, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA 98105

Publication date: 1998-07-01

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