Aerial view of Accomplishment Creek and the Sagavanirktok River in the Brooks Range of Alaska.  Photo by D.L. Kane

An Observational Array for High Resolution, Year-round Measurements of Volume, Freshwater, and Ice Flux Variability in Davis Strait

Craig Lee (, University of Washington
Jason Gobat (, University of Washington
Richard Moritz (, University of Washington
Ken Drinkwater (, Bedford Institute of Oceanography
Brian Petrie (, Bedford Institute of Oceanography

As part of a coordinated international effort to quantify (and eventually monitor) the variability of fluxes connecting the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans and to understand the role played by the Arctic and sub-Arctic in steering decadal scale climate variability, we propose an integrated observing system that will provide year-round measurements of volume, liquid freshwater and ice fluxes across Davis Strait. Fluxes through the Strait represent the net integrated Canadian Archipelago throughflow, modified by terrestrial inputs and oceanic processes during its southward transit through Baffin Bay. By the time they reach Davis Strait, Arctic waters already embody most of the transformations they undergo prior to exerting their influence on the deepwater formation sites in the Labrador Sea. This makes the Strait an ideal site for monitoring temporal and spatial variability in the critical upstream boundary condition for Labrador Sea convection. Measurements at Davis Strait will be used to study how fluctuations in the Arctic freshwater system modulate deep water formation to the south, thus influencing the associated meridional overturning circulation (MOC).

The system employs complementary techniques, combining mature technologies with recent developments in autonomous gliders (presently undertaking their first extended science missions) to address all aspects of flow through Davis Strait, including some measurements that have not previously been technologically feasible. The components of the proposed system include:

  • A sparse array of subsurface moorings, each instrumented with an upward looking sonar, an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) and a single conductivity-temperature (CT) sensor, will provide time series of upper ocean currents, ice velocity and ice thickness. These measurements will be used to estimate the ice component of freshwater flux, provide an absolute velocity reference for geostrophic shears calculated from Seaglider hydrographic sections, and derive error estimates for our lower-frequency flux calculations.

  • Trawl and iceberg resistant bottom landers, instrumented with ADCPs and CT sensors, will be deployed across the Baffin and Greenland shelves to quantify variability associated with strong, narrow coastal flows.

  • Acoustically navigated Seagliders will provide year-round, repeated, high-resolution hydrographic sections across the Strait. The resulting sections will be combined with the moored array data to produce sections of absolute geostrophic velocity and to estimate volume and freshwater fluxes.

By quantifying, with robust error estimates, the spatial and temporal variability of the Canadian Archipelago throughflow system at a location critical for assessing its impact on deep water formation in the North Atlantic, the proposed observing system will make a major contribution to SEARCH and ARCSS objectives. In addition to the immediate impacts of improved estimates of freshwater inputs to the Labrador Sea, the array will provide an initial data set with which to study the relationships between Arctic freshwater system variability and large scale atmospheric fluctuations (e.g. the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)). The combination of emerging and existing technologies implemented in the observing system may serve as a prototype for accurate long-term monitoring of freshwater and ice fluxes in high latitude environments subject to seasonal or permanent ice cover. Finally, acoustically navigated autonomous gliders capable of extended missions in ice covered environments will provide a significant new observational tool, opening important regions of high latitude oceans to intensive measurement programs.

Arctic CHAMP
Science Management Office

Contact Information
Role of the Arctic-CHAMP Science Management Office
Photo: Aerial view of Accomplishment Creek and the
     Sagavanirktok River in the Brooks Range of Alaska.  Photo by D.L. Kane