• Variability In The Circulation, Temperature, And Salinity Fields Of The Eastern Bering Sea Shelf In Response To Atomospheric Forcing

      Danielson, Seth Lombard; Weingartner, Thomas; Aagaard, Knut; Coyle, Kenneth; Hedstrom, Katherine; Kowalik, Zygmunt (2012)
      Although the Bering Sea shelf plays a critical role in mediating the global climate and supports one of the world's largest fisheries, fundamental questions remain about the role of advection on its salt, fresh water, heat and nutrient budgets. I quantify seasonal and inter-annual variability in the temperature, salinity and circulation fields. Shipboard survey temperature and salinity data from summer's end reveal that advection affects the inter-annual variability of fresh water and heat content: heat content anomalies are set by along-shelf summer Ekman transport anomalies whereas fresh water content anomalies are determined by wind direction anomalies averaged over the previous fall, winter and early spring. The latter is consistent with an inverse relationship between coastal and mid-shelf salinity anomalies and late summer -- winter cross-shelf motion of satellite-tracked drifters. These advection anomalies result from the position and strength of the Aleutian Low pressure system. Mooring data applied to the vertically integrated equations of motion show that the momentum balance is primarily geostrophic within at least one external deformation radius of the coast. Local accelerations, wind stress and bottom friction account for < 20% (up to 40%) of the along- (cross-) isobath momentum balance, depending on location and season. Wind-forced surface Ekman divergence is primarily responsible for flow variations. The shelf changes abruptly from strong coastal convergence conditions to strong coastal divergence conditions for winds directed to the south and for winds directed to the west, respectively, and substantial portions of the shelf's currents reorganize between these two modes of wind forcing. Based on the above observations and supporting numerical model integrations, I propose a simple framework for considering the shelf-wide circulation response to variations in wind forcing. Under southeasterly winds, northward transport increases and onshore cross-isobath transport is relatively large. Under northwesterly winds, onshore transport decreases or reverses and nutrient-rich waters flow toward the central shelf from the north and northwest, replacing dilute coastal waters that are carried south and west. These results have implications for the advection of heat, salt, fresh water, nutrients, plankton, eggs and larvae across the entire shelf.