Arctic Sunrise,
from the Chukchi Borderland 2002 Cruise

Atlantic Waters in the Western Arctic Ocean

Rebecca Woodgate,
University of Washington, USA

Corresponding author: Rebecca Woodgate (

NSF-Polar Programs

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Atlantic Waters (AW) in the Arctic


Project Research Aims

Chukchi Borderland Project 2002


The Arctic Ocean Boundary Current in the Eurasian Arctic

Circulation of Atlantic Waters in the Western Arctic 1981-2013
Woodgate and Peralta-Ferriz, in prep.

Arctic Ocean Circulation - going around at the Top of the World
Woodgate 2012, Nature Education Knowledge Project (preprint)

Atlantic Water Circulation in the Chukchi Borderland Region
 Woodgate et al., JGR, 2007

Atlantic Water Circulation along the Eurasian Slope and the Lomonosov Ridge
Woodgate et al., DSR 2001

Research Aims

Atlantic Waters (AWs) are volumetrically the largest inflow to the Arctic Ocean.  They form the major subsurface circum-arctic oceanic transport system and ventilate the interior basins.  They are the greatest pan-arctic reservoir of oceanic heat, which may influence upper layers and the sea-ice, for example through slope upwelling and mixing.  Circulation of AW carries tracers and contaminants through the Arctic, and the pan-arctic distribution of AW offers a warm corridor for invasive species.  Globally, arctic-modification of AW contributes to the North Atlantic overflows and is a high-latitude (climate-sensitive) part of the meridional overturning circulation.  Yet, despite the urgent focus on the changing Arctic, fundamental questions about the major ocean current in the Arctic remain unanswered.

It is generally believed there is a cyclonic, equivalent-barotropic pan-arctic boundary current, topographically steered along slopes and ridges.  However, especially in the western Arctic, despite a large increase in observations in the last decades, there is still little published confirmation of the physical properties of this flow, the importance of various possible pathways, or quantification of exchange processes between the boundary current and the interior or the arctic shelves.  Surprisingly, there is also open disagreement (both from observations and modeling) about the flow direction in some regions, most notably the interior Canada Basin.  An observational description of AW circulation (especially information on flow pathways and properties) is vital for verifying emerging theories of the driving mechanisms of the AW flow and for ground-truthing numerical arctic and global models (whose circulation patterns may be reversed by tuning basic model parameters).

At a time of dramatic, topical Arctic change, our inability to answer fundamental physical questions about Arctic Ocean circulation is hindering modeling and theoretical advances and observational planning.

Thus, in collaboration with national/international observational, modeling and theoretical partners, we provide an observationally-based synthesis of the Atlantic Water circulation in the western Arctic, using available historic hydrographic, mooring, and drifting buoy data collected since the late 1980s.  The analysis will include several underutilized data sets, and exploit a new technique of tracing water pathways using characteristics of double diffusive temperature-salinity structures. 

Results of this work are currently in final preparation for submission and publication. Check back later for a preprint, including visualizations of the various data sets, once that process is complete.

Schematic of Arctic AW circulation

For use of any of this information, please contact Rebecca Woodgate (
Polar Science Center, University of Washington, 2010

We gratefully acknowledge financial support for this the National Science Foundation (NSF).
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