In 2018, Alaska's Bering Sea was all out of whack

By all measures, 2018 was an extreme year for Alaska’s Bering Sea. For the first time since 1850, the body of water in the northern Pacific remained virtually free of sea ice. Scientists traced the impact of this lack of ice on water temperature and fish populations throughout the year to try to figure out what happens when an ecosystem built around ice suddenly has none.

“Last year, or last winter, we had by far the lowest sea ice extent by any measure in the Bering Sea,” says Rick Thoman, who recently retired from studying weather and climate for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and currently works for the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. From when reconstructed sea ice records begin in 1850 until now, this year was the lowest of the low in terms of sea ice, and “not by a little bit, by a tremendous amount.”

The Bering Sea sits in the northern Pacific ocean, just below the Arctic. It stretches west from Alaska over to Russia, framed by the Alaskan Peninsula to the south and the Bering Strait to the north. In a normal year more than 500,000 square kilometers of ice will form from the Bering Strait down past St. Matthew’s Island, said Walter Meier, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, in a NASA post. “That’s about two Texas’s worth of ice that is missing this year.”

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