The East Siberian Sea Large Marine Ecosystem (LME) is a high-latitude marine region located in the Polar Circle in the eastern section of the Siberian shelf. The coastline is indented with many islands, shallow bays, gulfs and inlets. The New Siberian Islands constitute a topographical boundary with the Laptev Sea to the west. The East Siberian Sea LME includes an extensive continental shelf and is very shallow. Climatic conditions are extremely severe, with major seasonal and annual changes. For most of the year, the LME is covered with ice. Climate, e.g. temperature, is the primary force driving the LME. Climate has major influence on the distribution, growth and recruitment of fish species and other living marine resources.
This LME is uniquely sensitive to environmental change. The ice-cover varies considerably during the year and inter-annually. Ice cover for a major portion of the year prevents sunlight from penetrating deep into the water column and thus limits production for several months. Increased production occurs after the ice melts in the summer months. The formation and melting of ice, which supplies freshwater and chemical elements, complicates the thermal, chemical, sedimentological and biological processes in the Siberian polynya. The East Siberian Sea is considered a Class III, low productivity (<150 grams of Carbon per square meters per year (gC/m2-yr)) ecosystem based on SeaWiFS annual global primary productivity estimates. The phytoplankton life cycle takes place during the short Arctic summer. The main reasons for interannual differences in the biological seasons are the meteorological, hydrological and glacial conditions. Zooplankton population size and biomass can vary widely in this LME in the summer. The copepod group is dominant. Much of the East Siberian Sea is influenced by Pacific species. An issue of special importance is the relationship between shelf circulation and nutrient fluxes. Coastal erosion and river discharges provide a major source of suspended matter and nutrients. Huge Siberian rivers (for instance the Kolyma River) bring millions of tons of nutrients into the Sea every year. For more information on physical and biological systems in this LME and its response to climate change, see the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA).
Fish and Fisheries
Sea birds, seals, walruses, arctic foxes and polar bears make up the varied, rich fauna at the edge of the drift ice and onshore. The East Siberian Sea LME has many valuable types of fish but the largest stocks are generally concentrated in sub-estuarial zones. Much of the salmon catch is low-grade pink salmon that is canned and sold domestically. But other higher-priced seafood, like pollock, halibut and crab, are poised to play a more important commercial role. Russia's new free-market system is attempting to modernize the country's commercial fishing industry, but there are some impeding factors such as the shortage of gasoline. The University of British Columbia has detailed fish catch statistics for this LME. Click on the graph below for more information.
Pollution and Ecosystem Health
Some hazardous contaminants (oil, hydrocarbons, organochlorine compounds, heavy metals and radionuclides) can be found in snow, ice, seawater, marine organisms and bottom sediments. The average concentrations of these contaminants are, however, very low. There is pollution in areas located near mineral resource extraction zones, or adjacent to ports or in the vicinity of small coastal settlements. The Siberian rivers discharging into the East Siberian Sea LME encompass industrial and agricultural regions within their watershed. Contaminants can be found in regions that are a part of the Kolyma and Indigirka river watersheds (GIS provides the means to assess transport pathways, sources and sinks). The other river watersheds may also contain significant amounts of contaminants. Pollutants can be transported by coastal currents along the continental shelf. Dissolved pollutants are carried even farther, as the river runoff flows across the central Arctic basin in the Transpolar Drift Stream. Other issues pertaining to ecosystem health are endangered marine species such as walruses and whales; the fragile marine ecosystem, slow to recover from disruptions or damage; the thinning polar ice pack. For more information on the environmental distribution of pollutants, on UV radiation and on climate change, see the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA).
Economic activity includes fisheries and the exploitation of natural resources (petroleum and natural gas). There appear to be major prospects for the exploitation of immense hydrocarbon and gas reserves in this region. The common feature of this LME is a relatively low density of population in the coastal areas. Some parts of the coast are almost uninhabited. The few small settlements are separated by long distances. The anthropogenic impact of these populations is thus considered to be quite low. Since navigation is restricted by heavy ice in the winter, ships carry goods mostly in the summer.
This LME is situated on the Northern coast of Russia, where particularly severe climatic conditions and ice conditions increase the danger for shipping and pollution of the marine environment. The Soviet era adopted special measures for the protection of the marine environment and the prevention of pollution in the Arctic areas adjacent to its Northern coast. These provided for special navigational rules on that coastline. Other issues are the question pertaining to the legal status of the Arctic areas. During Soviet times, the East Siberian Sea was held to be internal waters. For ongoing bilateral science projects, see the International Science Initiative in the Russian Arctic (ISIRA).
- Baskakov, G.A., A.O. Shpaikher, 1978. The boundary and the main morphometric characteristics of the Siberian shelf. Proc. of the AARI, v. 349, p. 76-83.
- Dobrovol’skiy, A.d., Zalogin, B.S., 1982. Seas of the USSR - M. Moscow University, p. 192.
- Gorbunov,Yu.A. and Losev, S.M., 1994. Ice drift features in the northern region of the Laptev and the East-Siberian Seas and the adjacent Arctic Basin in July-September 1993, Scientific Results of the expedition LAPEX-93. Gidrometeoizdat, S.Petersburg, p.180-192 (in Russian).
- Gorshkov, S.G., 1980. World Ocean Atlas, Volume 3, Arctic Ocean.
Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.