On the dynamics of strait flows: an ocean model study of the Aleutian passages and the Bering Strait

Abstract

A high-resolution numerical ocean circulation model of the Bering Sea (BS) is used to study the natural variability of the BS straits. Three distinct categories of strait dynamics have been identified: (1) Shallow passages such as the Bering Strait and the Unimak Passage have northward, near barotropic flow with periodic pulses of larger transports; (2) wide passages such as Near Straits, Amukta Pass, and Buldir Pass have complex flow patterns driven by the passage of mesoscale eddies across the strait; and (3) deep passages such as Amchitka Pass and Kamchatka Strait have persistent deep return flows opposite in direction to major surface currents; the deep flows persist independent of the local wind. Empirical orthogonal function analyses reveal the spatial structure and the temporal variability of strait flows and demonstrate how mesoscale variations in the Aleutian passages influence the Bering Strait flow toward the Arctic Ocean. The study suggests a general relation between the barotropic and baroclinic Rossby radii of deformations in each strait, and the level of flow variability through the strait, independent of geographical location. The mesoscale variability in the BS seems to originate from two different sources: a remote origin from variability in the Alaskan Stream that enters the BS through the Aleutian passages and a local origin from the interaction of currents with the Bowers Ridge in the Aleutian Basin. Comparisons between the flow in the Aleutian passages and flow in other straits, such as the Yucatan Channel and the Faroe Bank Channel, suggest some universal topographically induced dynamics in strait flows.

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Acknowledgments

The research is supported by NOAA’s Office of Climate Programs, through grants to ODU (award NA08OAR4310613) and PU (award NA17RJ2612), as part of the project “Collaborative Research: Modeling Sea Ice-Ocean-Ecosystem Responses to Climate Changes in the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Seas with Data Assimilation of RUSALCA Measurements.” TE was partly supported by grants from NSF and NOAA. LYO is grateful to GFDL/NOAA, Princeton, where model computations were conducted.

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Correspondence to Tal Ezer.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on the 4th International Workshop on Modelling the Ocean in Yokohama, Japan 21-24 May 2012

Responsible Editor: Yasumasa Miyazawa

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Ezer, T., Oey, L. On the dynamics of strait flows: an ocean model study of the Aleutian passages and the Bering Strait. Ocean Dynamics 63, 243–263 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10236-012-0589-6

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Keywords

  • Bering Sea
  • Aleutian passages
  • Numerical ocean modeling
  • Flow–topography interaction
  • Strait dynamics