National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2005

A note on cross-shelf exchange in the northern Gulf of Alaska

Ladd, C., P. Stabeno, and E. Cokelet

Deep-Sea Res. Pt. II, 52(5–6), 667–679, doi: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2004.12.022 (2005)

The continental shelf of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) is a complex system characterized by large freshwater runoff and strong winds. The GOA supports one of the world's richest ecosystems, including numerous species of fishes, marine mammals and sea birds. The mechanisms that provide nutrients to support this ecosystem are not well understood. The rivers and streams that provide freshwater to the shelf are low in nitrate, and the regional winds favor downwelling. High concentrations of nitrate are available in the deep basin of the GOA, but these must be introduced to the shelf in order to support the high productivity. We present evidence for cross-shelf exchange due to three different mechanisms. Episodes of downwelling relaxation result in a flux of saline, nutrient-rich water onto the shelf at depth. Eddies, formed in the northeastern GOA, propagate along the shelf-break influencing cross-shelf exchange by carrying shelf-origin water from the formation region into the basin and by interacting with the shelf-break circulation. Bathymetric steering in the many canyons that incise the GOA shelf results in flow into the canyons where strong tidal mixing results in cross-isobath movement of water properties.

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