Chukchi Sea large marine ecosystem

caption Location of the Chukchi Sea LME. (Source: NOAA)

The Chukchi Sea Large Marine Ecosystem (LME) is characterized by its Sub-Arctic climate. It is a high-latitude marine region situated off of Russia’s East Siberian coast and the Northwestern coast of Alaska (USA). Pacific waters enter this Arctic LME via the Bering Strait. The LME is characterized by its extreme environment, and by major seasonal and annual changes in ocean climate. The region is driven by climatic conditions and by the annual formation and deformation of sea ice. Sea ice dynamics help explain the productivity of the region. An LME book chapter pertaining to this LME is Carleton Ray and Hayden, 1993, which describes marine biogeographic provinces of the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.


The LME is relatively shallow with an extensive continental shelf. The coastline has many islands, shallow bays, gulfs and inlets. The ice-cover varies considerably during the year and inter-annually. Annual formation of sea ice and annual melting impact the productivity of the region. Climatic conditions and temperature influence the distribution, growth and recruitment of the major fish species and other living marine resources. The Chukchi Sea LME is considered a Class II, moderately high (150-300 grams of Carbon per square meter per year (gC/m2-yr)) productivity ecosystem based on SeaWiFS global primary productivity estimates. An important question is how this productivity might change under an altered climatic regime. Studies have examined changes in wind patterns, precipitation, temperature, ice, and currents. Ice and climate records show climate warming occurring in the southern section of the Chukchi Sea LME. For more information on physical processes in this LME, see a multidisciplinary synthesis of the Chukchi Sea.

Fish and Fisheries

NOAA statistics on Alaska in “Our Living Oceans” apply to all of Alaska, without a specific statistical breakdown for the US section of the Chukchi Sea LME. Key marine species are salmon, herring, walrus, seals, whales, and various species of waterfowl. The catch mostly focuses on gray whales, walruses, ringed seals and salmon. For statistics on the Beluga and other marine mammals in the Chukchi Sea, see NOAA, 1999, p. 231.There are dramatic annual oscillations in native catch due to the impact of varying ice and weather regimes. The key subsistence marine species are likely to undergo shifts in range and abundance due to climate change. The University of British Columbia Fisheries Center has detailed fish catch statistics on this LME.

Pollution and Ecosystem Health

Monitoring strategies have generally excluded the Chukchi Sea LME off of Alaska (USA) because of logistical problems. Coastal resources are presumed to be in relatively pristine condition due to sparse population and general remoteness. A major issue, however, is the thinning polar ice pack. Contaminants are endangering marine species such as walruses and whales. The fragile ecosystem is slow to change and slow to recover from disruptions or damage. Climate change and retreating sea ice are having an effect on the distribution, migration patterns, and numbers of some wildlife species. The ice cover plays a role in releasing sediments and nutrients to the melt water. When fewer nutrients are available in the ice and in the melt-water, overall biological productivity is lower.


Economic activity is limited to the exploitation of natural resources, including petroleum, natural gas, fish, and seals. There appear to be major prospects for the exploitation of immense hydrocarbon and gas reserves in this area. Environmental variability has an impact on marine mammal hunting and the native subsistence catch. The impact of recent climate warming is reflected in marine hunting data. Ice and climate records show climate warming in the southern section of the Chukchi Sea. This has improved conditions for native hunting of the walrus but has adversely impacted other human activities. Indigenous people are reporting that when sea ice is late in forming, certain forms of hunting are delayed or may not take place at all. When sea ice melts too quickly in the spring, it greatly decreases the length of the hunting season. There have been substantial shifts in native hunting practices, subsistence activities, and the consumption of marine products on the Chukchi Peninsula during the last decade. In the Russian section of the LME, because native village economies, today, are cut off from the food supply and technology networks of the previous Soviet era, they have reverted to a subsistence type economy of hunting for marine mammals. The potential impact of rapid climate change could put the native communities at risk.


The Chukchi Sea LME is bordered by Russia and the USA. Local communities are adjusting their economies to climate change. Any consultative framework to manage the LME’s marine resources will require attention to the culture and economy of indigenous peoples. The change in their economic prospects poses a threat, while it also provides a vital opportunity for discussion of their concerns and for more involvement in the decision-making process. Stakeholders in this LME include the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and the Council of Elders of the Chukchi of Arctic Russia.


Articles and LME volumes

  • Ray, G. Carleton and B.P. Hayden, 1993. Marine biogeographic provinces of the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. In: K. Sherman, L.M. Alexander and B.D Gold, Large Marine Ecosystems-Stress, Mitigation, and Sustainability. AAAS Press, p. 175-184. ISBN: 087168506X.
  • NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), 1988. Bering, Beaufort, and Chukchi seas coastal and ocean zones strategic assessment: Data atlas. US Dept. of Commercie, NOAA, National ocean Survey, Strategic Assessment Branch, Rockville, MD.

Other references

  • Cota, G.F., L.R. Pomeroy, W.G. Harrison, E.P. Jones, F. Peters, W.M. Shledon, Jr., and T.J. Weingartner., 1996. Nutrients, photosynthesis and microbial heterotrophy in the southeastern Chukchi Sea: Arctic summer nutrient depletion and heterotrophy. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 135: 247-25.
  • Dobrovol’skiy, A.d., Zalogin, B.S., 1982. Seas of the USSR - M. Moscow University, p. 192.
  • Feder, H.M. and A.S. Naidu, S.C. Jewett, J.M. Hameedi, W.R. Johnson and T.E. Whitledge, 1994. The northeastern Chukchi Sea: benthos-environmental interactions, Marine Ecology Progress Series, 111, 171-190.
  • Frost, K.J., L.F.Lowry, and G. Carroll, 1993. Beluga whale and spotted seal use of a coastal lagoon system in the northeastern Chukchi Sea. Arctic 46(1):8-16.
  • Gorshkov, S.G., 1980. World Ocean Atlas, Volume 3, Arctic Ocean.
  • Krupnik, Bogoslovskaya, and Mymrin, The Sea-Mammal Hunting Culture of Chukotka: Native Heritage and Culture Change During the 20th Century. In press. Institute of Cultural and Natural Heritage of Russia in Moscow.
  • NOAA, 1999. Our living oceans—report on the status of U.S. Living Marine Resources, 1999. 301 pages.
  • Weingartner, T.J., D.J. Cavalieri, K. Aagaard and Y. Sasaki, 1998. Circulation, dense water formation and outlfow on the northeast Chukchi Sea shelf. J. Geophys. Res. 103: 7647-7662. 


Disclaimer: This article contains information that was originally published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth have edited its content and 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.










Administration, N. (2011). Chukchi Sea large marine ecosystem. Retrieved from


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