BERINGIA is defined today as the land and maritime area bounded on
the west by the
Lena River in
Russia ; on the east by the Mackenzie
Canada ; on the north by 72 degrees north latitude in the
Chukchi Sea ; and on the south by the tip of the
Kamchatka Peninsula .
It includes the
Chukchi Sea , the
Bering Sea , the
Bering Strait ,
the Chukchi and Kamchatka Peninsulas in
Russia as well as
United States .
The area includes land lying on the
North American Plate and Siberian
land east of the
Chersky Range . Historically, it formed a land bridge
that was up to 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) wide at its greatest
extent and which covered an area as large as
British Columbia and
Alberta together, totaling approximately 1,600,000 square kilometres
(620,000 square miles). Today, the only land that is visible from the
central part of the Bering land bridge are the
Diomede Islands , the
Pribilof Islands of St. Paul and St. George,
St. Lawrence Island , and
King Island .
Beringia was coined by the Swedish botanist
Eric Hultén in
1937. During the ice ages, Beringia, like most of
Siberia and all of
Northeast China , was not glaciated because snowfall was
very light . It was a grassland steppe , including the land bridge,
that stretched for hundreds of kilometres into the continents on
It is believed that a small human population of at most a few
thousand arrived in
Beringia from eastern
Siberia during the Last
Glacial Maximum before expanding into the settlement of the Americas
sometime after 16,500 years ago during the
Late Glacial Maximum as the
American glaciers blocking the way southward melted, but before
the bridge was covered by the sea about 11,000 years BP .
Before European colonization,
Beringia was inhabited by the Yupik
peoples on both sides of the straits. This culture remains in the
region today along with others. In 2012, the governments of
United States announced a plan to formally establish "a
transboundary area of shared Beringian heritage". Among other things
this agreement would establish close ties between the Bering Land
Bridge National Preserve and the
Cape Krusenstern National Monument
Cape Krusenstern National Monument in
United States and the planned
Beringia National Park in Russia.
* 1 Geography
* 2 Beringian refugium
* 3 Human habitation
* 4 Previous connections
* 5 See also
* 6 References
* 7 Further reading
* 8 External links
Bering land bridge –
Wisconsin glaciation Bering land
bridge region – deglaciation period Bering land bridge region
– present day
The remains of
Late Pleistocene mammals that had been discovered on
Aleutians and islands in the
Bering Sea at the close of the
nineteenth century indicated that a past land connection might lie
beneath the shallow waters between
Alaska and Chukotka . The
underlying mechanism was first thought to be tectonics, but by 1930
changes in the icemass balance, leading to global sea-level
fluctuations, was viewed as the cause of the Bering Land Bridge. In
Eric Hultén proposed that around the
Aleutians and the Bering
Strait region were tundra plants that had originally dispersed from a
now-submerged plain between
Alaska and Chukotka, which he named
Vitus Bering who had sailed into the strait in 1728.
The American arctic geologist David Hopkins redefined
include portions of
Alaska and Northeast Asia.
Beringia was later
regarded as extending from the
Verkhoyansk Mountains in the west to
Mackenzie River in the east. The distribution of plants in the
Pinus are good examples of this as genera
members are found in
Asia and the Americas with a high degree of
Pleistocene epoch, global cooling led periodically to the
expansion of glaciers and lowering of sea levels. This created land
connections in various regions around the globe. Today, the average
water depth of the
Bering Strait is 40–50 m (130–160 ft),
therefore the land bridge opened when the sea level dropped more than
50 m (160 ft) below the current level. A reconstruction of the
sea-level history of the region indicated that a seaway existed from
c. 135,000 – c. 70,000 BP, a land bridge from c. 70,000
– c. 60,000 BP, intermittent connection from c. 60,000 –
c. 30,000 BP, a land bridge from c. 30,000 – c. 11,000 BP,
followed by a
Holocene sea-level rise that reopened the strait.
Post-glacial rebound has continued to raise some sections of coast.
During the last glacial period , enough of the earth's water became
frozen in the great ice sheets covering
North America and
cause a drop in sea levels . For thousands of years the sea floors of
many interglacial shallow seas were exposed, including those of the
Bering Strait , the
Chukchi Sea to the north, and the
Bering Sea to
the south. Other land bridges around the world have emerged and
disappeared in the same way. Around 14,000 years ago, mainland
Australia was linked to both
New Guinea and
Tasmania , the British
Isles became an extension of continental
Europe via the dry beds of
English Channel and
North Sea , and the dry basin of the South
China Sea linked
Java , and
Beringia precipitation 22,000 years ago See also: Mammoth
steppe and Asa_Gray § The "Asa Gray disjunction"
The last glacial period , commonly referred to as the "Ice Age",
spanned 125,000 –14,500 YBP and was the most recent glacial period
within the current ice age , which occurred during the last years of
Pleistocene era. The Ice Age reached its peak during the Last
Glacial Maximum , when ice sheets began advancing from 33,000 YBP and
reached their maximum limits 26,500 YBP.
Deglaciation commenced in the
Northern Hemisphere approximately 19,000 YBP and in Antarctica
approximately 14,500 years YBP, which is consistent with evidence that
glacial meltwater was the primary source for an abrupt rise in sea
level 14,500 YBP and the bridge was finally inundated around 11,000
YBP. The fossil evidence from many continents points to the
extinction of large animals, termed
Pleistocene megafauna , near the
end of the last glaciation.
During the Ice Age a vast, cold and dry
Mammoth steppe stretched from
the arctic islands southwards to China, and from Spain eastwards
across Eurasia and over the Bering land bridge into
Alaska and the
Yukon where it was blocked by the
Wisconsin glaciation . The land
bridge existed because sea-levels were lower due to more of the
planet's water being locked up in glaciers compared with today.
Therefore, the flora and fauna of
Beringia were more related to those
of Eurasia rather than North America.
Beringia received more moisture
and intermittent maritime cloud cover from the north Pacific ocean
than the rest of the
Mammoth steppe, including the dry environments on
either side of it. This moisture supported a shrub-tundra habitat that
provided a ecological refugium for plants and animals. In East
Beringia 35,000 YBP, the northern arctic areas experienced
temperatures 1.5 C degrees warmer than today but the southern
sub-Arctic regions were 2 C degrees cooler. During the LGM 22,000 YBP
the average summer temperature was 3-5 C degrees cooler than today,
with variations of 2.9 C degrees cooler on the
Seward Peninsula to 7.5
C cooler in the Yukon. In the driest and coldest periods of the Late
Pleistocene, and possibly during the entire Pleistocene, moisture
occurred along a north-south gradient with the south receiving the
most cloud cover and moisture due to the air-flow from the North
In the Late Pleistocene,
Beringia was a mosaic of biological
communities. Commencing from c. 57,000 BP (MIS 3),
steppe–tundra vegetation dominated large parts of
Beringia with a
rich diversity of grasses and herbs. There were patches of shrub
tundra with isolated refugia of larch (Larix) and spruce (Picea)
forests with birch (Betula) and alder (Alnus) trees. It has been
proposed that the largest and most diverse megafaunal community
Beringia at this time could only have been sustained in a
highly diverse and productive environment. Analysis at Chukotka on
the Siberian edge of the land bridge indicated that from c. 57,000
– c. 15,000 BP (MIS 3 to MIS 2) the environment was wetter and
colder than the steppe–tundra to the east and west, with warming in
Beringia from c. 15,000 BP. These changes provided the
most likely explanation for mammal migrations after c. 15,000 BP, as
the warming provided increased forage for browsers and mixed feeders.
Beringia did not block the movement of most dry steppe-adapted large
species such as saiga antelope, woolly mammoth, and caballid horses.
However, from the west the woolly rhino went no further east than the
Anadyr River, and from the east North American camels, the American
kiang-like equids, the short-faced bear, bonnet-horned muskoxen, and
badger did not travel west. At the beginning of the Holocene, some
mesic habitat -adapted species left the refugium and spread westward
into what had become tundra-vegetated northern
Asia and eastward into
northern North America.
The latest emergence of the land bridge was c. 70,000 years ago.
However, from c. 24,000 – c. 13,000 BP the Laurentide ice sheet
fused with the
Cordilleran ice sheet
Cordilleran ice sheet , which blocked gene flow between
Beringia (and Eurasia) and continental North America. The Yukon
corridor opened between the receding ice sheets c. 13,000 BP, and
this once again allowed gene flow between Eurasia and continental
North America until the land bridge was finally closed by rising sea
levels c. 10,000 BP. During the Holocene, many mesic-adapted
species left the refugium and spread eastward and westward, while at
the same time the forest-adapted species spread with the forests up
from the south. The arid adapted species were reduced to minor
habitats or became extinct.
Beringia constantly transformed its ecosystem as the changing climate
affected the environment, determining which plants and animals were
able to survive. The land mass could be a barrier as well as a bridge:
during colder periods, glaciers advanced and precipitation levels
dropped. During warmer intervals, clouds, rain and snow altered soils
and drainage patterns.
Fossil remains show that spruce , birch and
poplar once grew beyond their northernmost range today, indicating
that there were periods when the climate was warmer and wetter. The
environmental conditions were not homogenous in Beringia. Recent
stable isotope studies of woolly mammoth bone collagen demonstrate
Siberia ) was colder and drier than eastern
Yukon ), which was more ecologically diverse.
Mastodons , which depended on shrubs for food, were uncommon in the
open dry tundra landscape characteristic of
Beringia during the colder
periods. In this tundra, mammoths flourished instead.
The extinct pine species
Pinus matthewsii has been described from
Pliocene sediments in the
Yukon areas of the refugium.
The paleo-environment changed across time. Below is a gallery of
some of the plants that inhabited eastern
Beringia before the
beginning of the
* Gallery - plants of eastern
Alaska and the Yukon) c.
15,000 – c. 11,500 BP
Cyperaceae (sedges )
Gramineae (grasses )
Salix (willow )
Settlement of the Americas
Settlement of the Americas and
Genetic settlement of
The Bering land bridge is a postulated route of human migration to
the Americas from
Asia about 20,000 years ago. An open corridor
through the ice-covered North American Arctic was too barren to
support human migrations before around 12,600 BP. A study has
indicated that of the people who migrated across this land bridge at
that time, only 70 left their genetic imprint on modern descendants,
which is known as a founder effect (this is easily misread as implying
that only 70 people crossed to North America).
Seagoing coastal settlers may also have crossed much earlier, but
there is no scientific consensus on this point, and the coastal sites
that would offer further information now lie submerged in up to a
hundred metres of water offshore. Land animals migrated through
Beringia as well, introducing to
North America species that had
evolved in Asia: mammals such as proboscideans and American lions ,
which evolved into now-extinct endemic North American species; and
allowing equids and camelids that had evolved in
North America (and
later became extinct there) to migrate to Asia.
A study published in 2007 suggests that the Bering land bridge
migration occurred 12,000 BP, that every human who migrated across the
land bridge came from Eastern Siberia, and that every indigenous
person directly descends from that same group of Eastern Siberian
migrants. The authors note that a "nique genetic variant widespread in
natives across both continents suggests that the first humans in the
Americas came in a single migration or multiple waves from a single
source, not in waves of migrations from different sources".
Biogeographical evidence demonstrates previous connections between
North America and Asia. Similar dinosaur fossils occur both in Asia
North America . For instance the dinosaur
Saurolophus was found
in both Mongolia and western North America. Relatives of
Triceratops , and even
Tyrannosaurus rex all came from Asia.
China demonstrate a migration of Asian mammals into North
America around 55 million years ago. By 20 million years ago, evidence
North America shows a further interchange of mammalian species.
Some, like the ancient saber-toothed cats , have a recurring
geographical range: Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America. The only
way they could reach the
New World was by the Bering land bridge. Had
this bridge not existed at that time, the fauna of the world would be
Researchers have started to use molecular phylogenetics to trace the
history of faunal exchange and diversification, through the genetic
history of parasites and pathogens of North American ungulates . An
international Beringian Coevolution Project is collaborating to
provide material to assess the pattern and timing of faunal exchange
and the potential impact of past climatic events on differentiation.
Bering Strait crossing
Little John (archeological site)
Little John (archeological site)
Geologic time scale
Geologic time scale
Last glacial period
Last glacial period
Beringia Interpretive Centre
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* Shared Beringian