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Keywords:

  • dense water;
  • Bering Sea;
  • circulation

[1] Using 14 yearlong instrumented moorings deployed south of St. Lawrence Island, along with oceanographic drifters, we investigate the circulation over the central Bering shelf and the role of polynyas in forming and disseminating saline waters over the shelf. We focus also on evaluating the Gawarkiewicz and Chapman (1995) model of eddy production within coastal polynyas. Principal results include the following. (1) The northern central shelf near-surface waters exhibit westward flow, carrying low-salinity waters from the Alaskan coast in fall and early winter, with consequences for water mass formation and biological production. (2) Within the St. Lawrence polynya the freshening effect of winter advection is about half as large as the salting effect of surface brine flux resulting from freezing. (3) Brine production over the Bering shelf occurs primarily offshore, rather than within coastal polynyas, even though ice production per unit area is much larger within the polynyas. (4) We find little evidence for the geostrophic flow adjustment predicted by recent polynya models. (5) In contrast to the theoretical prediction that dense water from the polynya is carried offshore by eddies, we find negligible cross-shelf eddy density fluxes within and surrounding the polynya and very low levels of eddy energy that decreased from fall to winter, even though dense water accumulated within the polynya and large cross-shore density gradients developed. (6) It is possible that dense polynya water was advected downstream of our array before appreciable eddy fluxes materialized.