The Subarctic and Arctic Seas are strongly linked with two-way exchanges of water and biota through the major gateway such as the Bering Strait, Fram Strait, the Barents Sea and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The Subarctic Seas support large stocks of commercial fish that generate a major portion of the fish landings of the nations bordering them. Both the Subarctic and Arctic marine ecosystems support subsistence fishers along their coasts, and vast numbers of marine birds and mammals. Climate-forced changes in these systems have major economic and societal impact. ESSAS conducts research to compare, quantify, and predict the impact of climate variability and global change on the productivity and sustainability of Subarctic and Arctic marine ecosystems and their effect on humans.
Originally named the Ecosystem Studies of Sub-Arctic Seas, ESSAS officially began as a GLOBEC Regional Program in 2005 with an Open Science Meeting in May of that year hosted by PICES in Victoria, Canada. The meeting, entitled the Effects of Climate Variability on Sub-Arctic Marine Ecosystems, focused on examining past and ongoing studies and serves as a guidepost of where we were at in terms of our understanding at the time. The topics ranged from physical and biogeochemistry to plankton and fish up to marine mammals and seabirds through to humans. The following year at the first ESSAS Annual Meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, it formed working groups to focus upon different research priorities within the Subarctic Seas. They also developed national ESSAS programs in Japan, the United States, Iceland and Norway, which included extensive field programs, as well as comparative international programs between Canada and Norway and the U.S. and Norway.
ESSAS also led the International Polar Year (IPY) consortium focusing upon northern seas called the Ecosystem Studies of Subarctic and Arctic Regions (ESSAR). Annual Science Meetings (ASMs) are held to address topics of importance and interest and to present and discuss the work carried out in the working groups, national programs and international collaborations. With the ending of GLOBEC in 2009, ESSAS joined the Global Change project IMBER. In 2011, ESSAS held its 2nd Open Science Meeting in Seattle in the USA, entitled Comparative studies of climate effects on polar and subpolar ocean ecosystems: progress in observation and prediction. The meeting provided an opportunity to show-case the progress made within ESSAS and to identify remaining knowledge gaps and future research needs.
During the last several years ESSAS has been requested and has gradually moved some of its research effort into the Arctic, in particular examining the linkages and processes connecting the Arctic and subarctic. As a result, in 2013 ESSAS changed its name to the present Ecosystem Studies of Subarctic and Arctic Seas but maintains it abbreviation. We have also been collaborating with our IMBER sister regional program in the Southern Ocean, Integrating Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics (ICED) to carry out comparative studies of the Arctic and the Southern Ocean. While increasing our Arctic work, we still maintain a strong presence in the subarctic regions of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The results of our work continue to be presented at our Annual Science Meetings and Open Science Meetings, as well as at international conferences and symposia such as PICES, ICES, Ocean Sciences, etc. With IMBER joining Future Earth in 2016, ESSAS has become part of Future Earth.