The Arctic Circumpolar Boundary Current

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Abstract

[1] We present high-resolution simulations and observational data as evidence of a fast current flowing along the shelf break of the Siberian and Alaskan shelves in the Arctic Ocean. Thus far, the Arctic Circumpolar Boundary Current (ACBC) has been seen as comprising two branches: the Fram Strait and Barents Sea Branches (FSB and BSB, respectively). Here we describe a new third branch, the Arctic Shelf Break Branch (ASBB). We show that the forcing mechanism for the ASBB is a combination of buoyancy loss and non-local wind, creating high pressure upstream in the Barents Sea. The potential vorticity influx through the St. Anna Trough dictates the cyclonic direction of flow of the ASBB, which is the most energetic large-scale circulation structure in the Arctic Ocean. It plays a substantial role in transporting Arctic halocline waters and exhibits a robust seasonal cycle with a summer minimum and winter maximum. The simulations show the continuity of the FSB all the way around the Arctic shelves and the uninterrupted ASBB between the St. Anna Trough and the western Fram Strait. The BSB flows continuously along the Siberian shelf as far as the Chukchi Plateau, where it partly diverges from the continental slope into the ocean interior. The Alaskan Shelf break Current (ASC) is the analog of the ASBB in the Canadian Arctic. The ASC is forced by the local winds and high upstream pressure in Bering Strait, caused by the drop in sea surface height between the Pacific and Arctic Oceans.

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