Beluga whales in the Bering Sea
Beluga whales in the Bering Sea. Photo courtesy of Rosa Meehan, USFWS.

The productive and ecologically diverse Bering Sea is economically and culturally important. Recent evidence of change in Bering Sea ecosystems has raised concerns and engendered research efforts by several agencies. One of these efforts is the Bering Ecosystem Study (BEST), which is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of Polar Programs.

The 2004 BEST Science Plan outlines a multi-year research initiative to improve understanding of the effects of climate variability, at multiple temporal and spatial scales, on eastern Bering Sea marine ecosystems. Social scientists have developed a parallel science plan, Sustaining the Bering Ecosystem, which outlines a community-based research program focused on the residents of Bering Sea communities and their need to understand how climate variability will affect their future. These two plans have been integrated into an implementation plan for a single program that will study the ecosystem as a whole, including the social implications of climate change and the roles of people in the system.

NSF and the North Pacific Research Board (NPRB) are entering into a partnership to support a comprehensive vertically integrated investigation of the Bering Sea ecosystem during 2007-2012. The scientific foundation for this partnership is the 2005 Bering Ecosystem Study (BEST) implementation plan and the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (BSIERP), which is based on the NPRB 2005 science plan. Both programs seek to support meritorious scientific research that will improve understanding of how the highly productive marine ecosystem of the Bering Sea may respond to climate change, particularly as mediated through changes in sea ice cover.

Organizational support for BEST is provided by ARCUS and the BEST Planning Office. ARCUS is located in Fairbanks, Alaska, and supports the BEST program through coordination of meetings and workshops, publication development and design, and website maintenance. The BEST Planning Office is located at the University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. The Planning Office communicates BEST activities to the science community and the public and coordinates collaboration between BEST and other agencies and programs involved in Bering Sea research.