Water Masses and Nutrient Sources to the Gulf of Maine. Academic Article uri icon


  • The Gulf of Maine, a semi-enclosed basin on the continental shelf of the northwest Atlantic Ocean, is fed by surface and deep water flows from outside the Gulf: Scotian Shelf Water from the Nova Scotian shelf that enters the Gulf at the surface, and Slope Water that enters at depth and along the bottom through the Northeast Channel. There are two types of Slope Water, Labrador Slope Water (LSW) and Warm Slope Water (WSW); it is these deep water masses that are the major source of dissolved inorganic nutrients to the Gulf. It has been known for some time that the volume inflow of Slope Waters of either type that enters the Gulf of Maine is variable, that it co-varies with the magnitude of inflowing Scotian Shelf Water, and that periods of greater inflows of Scotian Shelf Water have become more frequent in recent years, accompanied by reduced Slope Water inflows. We present here analyses of a ten-year record of data collected by moored sensors in Jordan Basin, in the interior Gulf of Maine, and in the Northeast Channel, along with recent and historical hydrographic and nutrient data, that help reveal the nature of Scotian Shelf Water and Slope Water inflows. Proportional inflows of nutrient-rich Slope Waters and nutrient-poor Scotian Shelf Waters alternate episodically with one another on time scales of months to several years, creating a variable nutrient field upon which the biological productivities of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank depend. Unlike decades past, the inflows of Slope Waters of either type do not appear to be correlated with the North Atlantic Oscillation, which had been shown earlier to influence the relative proportions of the two Slope Waters, WSW and LSW, that enter the Gulf. We suggest that of greater importance in recent years are more frequent, episodic influxes of colder, fresher, less dense, and low-nutrient Scotian Shelf Water into the Gulf of Maine, and concomitant reductions in the inflow of deep, nutrient-rich Slope Waters. We also discuss evidence of modified Gulf Stream ring water that penetrated to Jordan Basin in summer of 2013.

publication date

  • May 2015