Seasonal to interannual variability of the Pacific water boundary current in the Beaufort Sea Academic Article uri icon


  • Between 2002 and 2011 a single mooring was maintained at the core of the Pacific water boundary current in the Beaufort Sea, approximately 150 km east of Pt. Barrow, Alaska. Using velocity and hydrographic data from six year-long deployments, we examine the variability of the current on seasonal to interannual timescales. The seasonal signal is characterized by enhanced values of volume, heat, and freshwater transport during the summer months associated with the presence of two summertime Pacific water masses, Alaskan Coastal Water and Chukchi Summer Water. Strikingly, over the decade the volume transport of the current has decreased by more than 80%, with comparable reductions in the heat and freshwater transports, despite the fact that the flow through Bering Strait has increased over this time period. The largest changes in the boundary current have occurred in the summer months. Using atmospheric reanalysis fields and weather station data, we demonstrate that an increase in summer easterly winds along the Beaufort slope is the primary cause for the reduction in transport. The stronger winds are due to an intensification of the summer Beaufort High and deepening of the summer Aleutian Low. Using additional mooring and shipboard data in conjunction with satellite fields, we investigate the implications of the reduction in transport of the boundary current. We argue that a significant portion of the mass and heat passing through Bering Strait in recent years has been advected out of Barrow Canyon into the interior Canada Basin - rather than entering the boundary current in the Beaufort Sea - where it is responsible for a significant portion of the increased sea ice melt in the basin. (C) 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • September 2014