Interannual and Decadal Variations in Cross-Shelf Transport in the Gulf of Alaska

Vincent Combes School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia

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Emanuele Di Lorenzo School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia

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Enrique Curchitser Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, New Jersey

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Abstract

The marine ecosystem of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) is one of the richest on the planet. The center of the GOA is characterized by high-nutrient and low-chlorophyll-a concentration. Recent observational studies suggest that advection of iron-rich coastal water is the primary mechanism controlling open ocean productivity. Specifically, there is evidence that mesoscale eddies along the coastal GOA entrain iron-rich coastal waters into the ocean interior. This study investigates the cross-shelf transport statistics in the GOA using a free-surface, hydrostatic, eddy-resolving primitive equation model over the period 1965–2004. The statistics of coastal water transport are computed using a model passive tracer, which is continuously released at the coast. The passive tracer can thus be considered a proxy for coastal biogeochemical quantities such as silicate, nitrate, iron, or oxygen, which are critical for explaining the GOA ecosystem dynamics. On average along the Alaska Current, it has been shown that at the surface while the advection of tracers by the average flow is directed toward the coast consistent with the dominant downwelling regime of the GOA, it is the mean eddy fluxes that contribute to offshore advection into the gyre interior. South of the Alaskan Peninsula, both the advection of tracers by the average flow and the mean eddy fluxes contribute to the mean offshore advection. On interannual and longer time scales, the offshore transport of the passive tracer in the Alaskan Stream does not correlate with large-scale atmospheric forcing, nor with local winds. In contrast in the Alaska Current region, stronger offshore transport of the passive tracer coincides with periods of stronger downwelling (in particular during positive phases of the Pacific decadal oscillation), which trigger the development of stronger eddies.

Corresponding author address: Vincent Combes, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, 311 Ferst Drive, Atlanta, GA 30332-0340. Email: vincent.combes@eas.gatech.edu

Abstract

The marine ecosystem of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) is one of the richest on the planet. The center of the GOA is characterized by high-nutrient and low-chlorophyll-a concentration. Recent observational studies suggest that advection of iron-rich coastal water is the primary mechanism controlling open ocean productivity. Specifically, there is evidence that mesoscale eddies along the coastal GOA entrain iron-rich coastal waters into the ocean interior. This study investigates the cross-shelf transport statistics in the GOA using a free-surface, hydrostatic, eddy-resolving primitive equation model over the period 1965–2004. The statistics of coastal water transport are computed using a model passive tracer, which is continuously released at the coast. The passive tracer can thus be considered a proxy for coastal biogeochemical quantities such as silicate, nitrate, iron, or oxygen, which are critical for explaining the GOA ecosystem dynamics. On average along the Alaska Current, it has been shown that at the surface while the advection of tracers by the average flow is directed toward the coast consistent with the dominant downwelling regime of the GOA, it is the mean eddy fluxes that contribute to offshore advection into the gyre interior. South of the Alaskan Peninsula, both the advection of tracers by the average flow and the mean eddy fluxes contribute to the mean offshore advection. On interannual and longer time scales, the offshore transport of the passive tracer in the Alaskan Stream does not correlate with large-scale atmospheric forcing, nor with local winds. In contrast in the Alaska Current region, stronger offshore transport of the passive tracer coincides with periods of stronger downwelling (in particular during positive phases of the Pacific decadal oscillation), which trigger the development of stronger eddies.

Corresponding author address: Vincent Combes, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, 311 Ferst Drive, Atlanta, GA 30332-0340. Email: vincent.combes@eas.gatech.edu

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