The northern Gulf of Alaska (GOA) shelf is a productive coastal region that supports several commercially important fisheries. The mechanisms supporting such high levels of productivity over this shelf are not understood, however, since it is a downwelling-dominated shelf. In an effort to understand the mechanisms underlying such high biological productivity, nutrient distributions were determined 25 times throughout 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001 from over the northern GOA shelf and in Prince William Sound (PWS). Deep water (>75 m) nitrate, silicate and phosphate concentrations were positively correlated with salinity indicating an offshore nutrient source. The average annual cycle was established, in which nitrate, silicate and phosphate responded seasonally to physical and biological processes. Ammonium concentrations were generally low and uniform (<1.2 muM) with occasional patches of higher concentrations. During each summer, an onshore flux of dense nutrient-rich bottom water onto the shelf was evident when the downwelling relaxed. This seasonal flux created nutrient reservoirs over the deeper shelf regions that were eventually mixed throughout the water column during the winter months. This annual evolution may be vital to the productivity of this shelf. A large degree of interannual variability was found during the study, which included El Nino (1998) and La Nina (1999) years. Spring phytoplankton biomass over the shelf was highest in 2000 when the upper waters were nutrient enriched and strongly stratified. The highest phytoplankton biomass was measured in May 1999 during the passage of a slope eddy, which demonstrated the potential of these phenomena to greatly enhance primary productivity. A large degree of spatial variability was also found, both cross-shelf and along-shelf. Hinchinbrook Canyon was found to consistently have high salinity, nutrient-enriched bottom waters suggesting it plays an important role in the transport of slope waters onto the shelf and probably into PWS. Along-shelf trends were found in the upper coastal waters in the winter and spring, with higher salinities, temperatures, and nutrient concentrations upstream of PWS. The nutrient dynamics were similar in PWS and over the shelf/slope in 2001; however, nutrient drawdown, followed by depletion, and the spring bloom appeared earlier and stronger in PWS.
Thesis (Ph.D.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2005
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