The objective of the North Pacific Ecosystem Metadatabase is to facilitate and enhance the ability of researchers, managers, students, fishermen and the general public to investigate and understand the functioning of the complex ecosystems of the North Pacific Ocean and its marginal seas.


The objective is realized by locating and assembling an inventory of the extensive biological and physical data collected on the North Pacific ecosystems, developing these into an indexed annotated catalog (metadatabase) and making the metadatabase available through various mechanisms. Existing information, as well as recently gathered data, is examined. The metadatabase is available to users in on-line formats. The on-line form of the metadatabase provides instantaneous access to the collected information and is implemented from the World Wide Web in a homepage format. This approach provides users a real-time direct link back to the metadatabase for querying and viewing data online.


The North Pacific Ecosystem Metadatabase was founded as the Bering Sea Ecosystem Biophysical Metadatabase in 1996. The Bering Sea has been the subject of intense study dating back to the mid 1970's with the Outer Continental Shelf Environmental Assessment Program (OCSEAP) and Processes and Resources of the Bering Sea Shelf (PROBES) program during the early 1980's. It is evident that considerable historical data exist on the Bering Sea marine ecosystem. Many different types of physical and biological data have been collected: repetitive observations from earth orbiting satellites, time series of point and gridded instrumental observations, ocean surveys of in-situ bio-physical data, specimen collections, and historical records of animal population changes. A 1996 National Research Council report on the Bering Sea ecosystem identified the lack of a comprehensive catalogue, inventory, or atlas of historical data about the various databases that exist on certain aspects of the Bering Sea ecosystem as the one major impediment to studying the Bering Sea system. This metadatabase is a direct response to the National Research Council’s call. The economic and biological significance of the Bering Sea has served as the impetus for the proliferation of a number of regional (PICES/GLOBEC CCCC, Bering Sea Impacts Study), national (Bering Sea FOCI, Southeast Bering Sea Carrying Capacity, Bering Sea Ecosystem Study) and international (PICES/GLOBEC, Japanese and Russian programs) research efforts aimed towards understanding the complex biophysical dynamics. All of these programs have field and data collection components associated with them, and this information is appropriate to the metadatabase. In 2002, we began expansion of the metadatabase to the entire North Pacific region with the support of the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES).


This metadatabase directly supports NOAA's strategic missions of environmental assessment, prediction, and stewardship. The Bering Sea, for example, provides about 40% of the entire U.S. seafood harvest. Our ability to manage these resources and those of other U.S. fisheries, depends critically on knowledge of how ecosystems function. Scientists that undertake inter and multi-disciplinary investigations, such as those required of ecosystem level research, must have access to information and data sets that are more complex than those needed by studies that focus on one or two disciplinary areas of study. Data sets suitable for ecosystem research must include information on all important biological and physical components of the ecosystem and relate these often disparate pieces of information together by linking them to some attribute such as common space and time scales. In addition, there must be a mechanism to examine the information in an integrated holistic way.

The historical data sets available for the activities described above are somewhat problematic for several reasons. Typically the scientific objectives behind their collection were not intended to address the specific issues that are the focus of current research programs. Most of the historical data on the eastern Bering Sea is not widely available to academic or government scientists, and few of the data sets have been cross-indexed and examined in a multi-disciplinary, hypothesis-testing mode. Some of the data sets arising from these early studies are well known because of the many publications resulting from them. Others have not been summarized in the open literature and are not generally known by the scientific community. They exist in various degrees of processing and public availability. Much of the available data, such as those on animal distributions and abundance and regional hydrographic, are in forms that are difficult to use. Other data sets are often incomplete and/or are in forms that are not easily obtained or analyzed. Data from the Western Bering Sea, collected by Russia, Japan and Korea are basically inaccessible to North American scientists, especially historic data.

Centralized access of the metadatabase to investigators with many different skills and interests and from many different institutions or agencies, is critical to the study of ecosystem processes. It is essential that policies and procedures for uniform data management and rapid exchange be utilized as they will foster linkages between studies on different time and space scales. Also a free flow of information to all investigators is vital in planning experiments, data analyses, and modeling efforts, and in putting together the broad picture of the relationship between and among the various biological, physical, and chemical data that have been collected.

Compilation of a biophysical metadatabase of the varied and disparate historical data sets (hydrography to higher predator abundances) in the North Pacific will offer several benefits to any project related to studying ecosystems and their components. The metadatabase should prove extremely useful to individuals undertaking field work or designing field sampling programs, designing process studies, validating simulation models, or collecting data for retrospective analyses. The metadatabase will facilitate past, present and future comparisons of biological processes and their coupling to the physical and biological structure and variability of the environment. Decadal data sets of biotic and abiotic variables will allow the question of climate scale variability to be addressed. Moreover, it will allow individuals to monitor changes and provide baselines for formulating and testing hypotheses that will advance understanding of the interactive processes that regulate ecosystem production. We anticipate that the products of this activity will become more valuable as time passes. Finally, the metadatabase will allow individuals to perform regional comparisons, better define regional differences in forcing and response within the North Pacific and its marginal seas, and the extent to which long term changes are regionally focused, or coherent, throughout the region.

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[Last updated: 2007-07-03]