Pathways of Pacific water across the Chukchi Sea: A numerical model study

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Abstract

[1] Pathways of Pacific Water flowing from the North Pacific Ocean through Bering Strait and across the Chukchi Sea are investigated using a two-dimensional barotropic model. In the no-wind case, the flow is driven only by a prescribed steady northward flow of 0.8 Sv through Bering Strait. The resulting steady state circulation consists of a broad northeasterly flow, basically following the topography, with a few areas of intensified currents. About half of the inflow travels northwest through Hope Valley, while the other half turns somewhat toward the northeast along the Alaskan coast. The flow through Hope Valley is intensified as it passes through Herald Canyon, but much of this flow escapes the canyon to move eastward, joining the flow in the broad valley between Herald and Hanna Shoals, another area of slightly intensified currents. There is a confluence of nearly all of the flow along the Alaskan coast west of Pt. Barrow to create a very strong and narrow coastal jet that follows the shelf topography eastward onto the Beaufort shelf. Thus in this no-wind case, nearly all of the Pacific Water entering the Chukchi Sea eventually ends up flowing eastward along the narrow Beaufort shelf, with no discernable flow across the shelf edge toward the interior Canada Basin. Travel times for water parcels to move from Bering Strait to Pt. Barrow vary tremendously according to the path taken; e.g., less than 6 months along the Alaskan coast, but about 30 months along the westernmost path through Herald Canyon. This flow field is relatively insensitive to idealized wind-forcing when the winds are from the south, west or north, in which cases the shelf transports tend to be intensified. However, strong northeasterly to easterly winds are able to completely reverse the flows along the Beaufort shelf and the Alaskan coast, and force most of the throughflow in a more northerly direction across the Chukchi Sea shelf edge, potentially supplying the surface waters of the interior Canada Basin with Pacific Water. The entire shelf circulation reacts promptly to changing wind conditions, with a response time of ∼2–3 days. The intense coastal jet between Icy Cape and Pt. Barrow implies that dense water formed here from winter coastal polynyas may be quickly swept away along the coast. In contrast, there is a relatively quiet nearshore region to the west, between Cape Lisburne and Icy Cape, where dense water may accumulate much longer and continue to become denser before it is carried across the shelf.

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