ESSAS Description


The overarching goal of ESSAS is to compare, quantify, and predict the impact of climate variability and global change on the productivity and sustatinability of Sub-Arctic marine ecosystems. The programme will do this by:

  • Investigating the connections between external forcing mechanisms and hydrographic structure and physical process in the Sub-Arctic Seas.
  • Investigating the connections between climate-forced changes in physical aspects (such as sea ice cover, water temperature and stratification of the water column) of the marine environment and the responses of biota.
  • Developing tools for intergrating the effects of bottom-up forcing by climate change accoss spatial and temporal scales with top-down forcing by fishing
  • Providing a framework for coordinated, interdisciplinary internationally cooperative studies of the effects of climate change on Sub-Arctic seas.
  • Furthering our ability to predict how the Sub-Arctic seas will respond to climate change.



ESSAS is split into the follwing working groups:

  • Biophysical coupling WG - this working group aims to compare different subarctic ecosystems through annual workshop
  • Ecosystem modelling WG - this working group aims to develop modelling strategies for comparisons
  • Climage change WG - this working group aims to develop ecosystem scenarios under future climate change


ESSAS has several affiliated programmes including the national contributions to ESSAS: Bering Ecosystem Study (BEST), Norwegian ESSAS (NESSAS) and Japanese ESSAS (J-ESSAS) plus NORCAN - the Norway-Canada Ecosystem Comparison project and Ecosystem Studies of Subarctic and Arctic Regions (ESSAR) which is a contribution to the International Polar Year. There are also two recently affiliated programmes - Iceland Sea Ecosystem (ISE) project and Marine Ecosystem Comparison Norway-US (MENU).

There are also several national contributions to ESSAS:

Japanese ESSAS (J-ESSAS)

The overall goal of J-ESSAS is to quantify the impact of climate variability on the structure and function of the Oyashio marine ecosystem in order to predict the ecosystem response to possible future climate change and its possible economic impact. J-ESSAS has 5 year funding from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) and the Japanese Environment Agency.

J-ESSAS research foci include:

  • Effects of Oyashio variability on ELS of pollock
  • Relative importance of environment and plankton on pelagic and demersal fish in the Oyashio Shelf region
  • Climate effects on walleye pollock, salmon, squid, sardine, etc.
  • Environment linkages to biological processes and their time scales
  • Factors influencing top-down vs. bottom-up processes
  • Societal and economic impacts of climate variability.

Bering Sea Ecosystem Study (BEST)

The aim of BEST is to understand and predict consequences of climate change for Bering Sea marine ecosystems. It incorporates end to end studies of Bering Sea ecosystems including climate, physics, primary production, zooplankton, fish, seabirds, marine mammals and people. BEST is closely associated with the human dimensions programme in the Bering on climate change and will form part of the US IPY programme.

BEST priority research modules include:

  • How is the disappearance of sea ice affecting the Bering Sea Ecosystem?
  • What controls the abundance of nutrients on the Shelf and what is the influence of climate variability?
  • What will be the ecosystem effects of a warmer and more stratified Bering Sea?

Norwegian ESSAS (NESSAS)

The overall goal of NESSAS is to quantify the impact of climate variability and global change on the structure and function of the Barents Sea marine ecosystem in order to predict the ecosystem response to possible future climate change and its possible economic impact. NESSAS is funded from 2005 to 2008 by the Research Council of Norway and is a contribution to Norwegian GLOBEC.

NESSAS activities have included:

  • Global ROMS model developed with hindcasts back to 1958
  • Storm track database developed and role of storms on sea ice published
  • Studies on the heat budget of the Barents Sea
  • Investigations of effects of light on phytoplankton production
  • Model hindcasts of phytoplankton production back to 1980
  • Response of marine ecosystem around Norway to climate change
  • Socio-economic consequences of climate change
  • Participated in comparative studies within ESSAS



SC members:

Members of the Steering Committee are appointed for a three year term which can be renewed once.