Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: Monitoring the Western Arctic Boundary Current in a Warming Climate: Atmospheric Forcing and Oceanographic Response (Award# 1733564)

PI: Pickart, Robert S (
Phone: (508) 289.2858 
Institute/Department: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Physical Oceanography Dept. 
IPY Project?
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\AON
Program Manager: Dr. Jennifer Mercer (
Discipline(s): | Oceanography |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
As Earth's climate has warmed over the past few decades, our planet has experienced many changes. Nowhere have the changes been more pronounced, nor happened as quickly, as in the Arctic Ocean. Pack-ice is melting, water is warming, storms are becoming stronger and more frequent, and basic circulation patterns are being altered. Our project focuses on the fate of the Pacific water that enters the Arctic Ocean through the Bering Strait. Pacific water plays a critical role in the western Arctic ecosystem. In wintertime, the cold inflowing water provides food for phytoplankton at the base of the food chain. In summertime, the warm water melts pack ice and provides freshwater to the Arctic Ocean. After the water crosses the Chukchi Sea, north of Bering Strait, some of it forms a narrow current that flows eastward along the edge of the Beaufort Sea. As part of our project we will continue to maintain a mooring positioned in the center of the current to measure its physical and biological properties. The mooring has been deployed (with a few gaps) since 2002, and during this time it has measured striking changes that need to be placed in the context of the evolving Arctic system. In addition, we will carry out shipboard surveys of the current and adjacent waters when we service the mooring, to provide a larger-scale view of the fate of the Pacific water. Past data have been widely used by the oceanographic community - in both observational and modeling studies -and are included in the annual Arctic Report Card. One graduate student will be supported on the project. The monitoring mooring is situated at 152 degrees W near the Beaufort Sea shelf break, roughly 150 km downstream of Pt. Barrow, AK. It will be deployed from fall 2018 to fall 2022 (in two 2-year installments). This will extend the time series at this location to 17 years. The mooring records the velocity of the water column and pack ice using two acoustic Doppler current profilers (ADCPs), and measures temperature, salinity, and pressure using a series of sensors spaced along the wire. Chlorophyll fluorescence and nitrate will be measured at 35 m (at the top float of the mooring), and a passive acoustic recorder situated near the base of the mooring will record marine mammal calls. Zooplankton concentration will be estimated using the ADCP backscatter data. Among other things, this will allow us to determine how much water, heat, nutrients, chlorophyll, and freshwater are transported by the current, and, importantly, assess how much exchange occurs between the interior of the Arctic Ocean and the boundary waters. Upwelling occurs during all seasons along the Beaufort slope, and it appears to be increasing as the climate warms. The mooring is ideally suited to quantify the upwelling, as well as any down welling that occurs. The shipboard sampling will include occupations of some of the Distributed Biological Observatory transects, which will contribute to that long-term study.

Logistics Summary:
This project will continue an Arctic Observing Network (AON) project to measure the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the western Arctic boundary current using an optimally-placed year-round mooring, along with summertime shipboard measurements. This site has been monitored since 2002 and is located in the western Beaufort Sea, downstream of the Pacific water outflow points from the Chukchi Sea. It will provide time series data of temperature, salinity, water column velocity, ice velocity, chlorophyll fluorescence, nitrate, backscatter, and marine mammal occurrence. A field team of 15 will use a UNOLS-chartered research vessel to conduct a 27-day research cruise in the fall of 2020 and 2022. The objective of the cruise is the bi-annual service (deployment, turnaround, or recovery) of a subsurface mooring on the Alaskan Beaufort shelf at 152W, and a hydrographic survey of the boundary current.

CPS will provide a community observer during the research cruises in 2020 and 2022. All other logistics will be arranged and paid for by the PI from the research grant.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2020Arctic Ocean and Seas - Beaufort Sea10 / 01 / 2020 10 / 28 / 202015
2022Arctic Ocean and Seas - Beaufort Sea10 / 01 / 2022 10 / 28 / 202215

Generated from:
Parameters used to generate this report:, Grant# = "1733564", IPY = "ALL" 
     Number of projects returned based on your query parameters = 1