Ocean warming and freshening in the northern Gulf of Alaska

Thomas C. Royer, Chester E. Grosch
Posted on: 6/22/2016 - Updated on: 1/17/2019

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Water column temperatures on the shelf in the northern Gulf of Alaska have increased more than 0.8°C and vertical density stratification has increased since 1970 near Seward, Alaska throughout the 250 m depth. This high latitude marine system has low water temperatures, high rates of precipitation, glacial melting, high wind speeds and high rates of biological productivity. A more than 300 km alongshore shift (locally westward) of isotherms is suggested. The observations are consistent with a conceptual ocean-atmosphere circulation model that employs coastal freshwater discharge, glacial ablation and wind forcing. Positive regional feedback mechanisms accelerate the discharge and poleward heat flux, leading to even higher temperatures, increased ocean stratification and increased storminess. This warming and ocean freshening will have significant impacts on the atmosphere and marine ecosystems of the Northeast Pacific, Bering Sea, Arctic Ocean and quite possibly global ocean circulation.


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