The Pacific Gateway to the Arctic Ocean - interdisciplinary studies in the Bering Strait

Rebecca Woodgate

The narrow (~ 85km) shallow (~ 50m) Bering Strait is the only oceanic gateway between the Pacific and the Arctic Oceans.  Waters flowing through this passage are an important source of nutrients, freshwater and heat for the Chukchi Sea and the Arctic Ocean proper.  These waters are found throughout the top layers of almost half of the Arctic Ocean.  They are believed to fuel ecosystems both within the Arctic, and in the passages and exits of the Canadian Archipelago.  Being fresher than most waters in the Arctic, they provide a barrier between the Arctic ice and the warmer waters from the Atlantic side of the Arctic.  In summer, however, they themselves bring heat into the Arctic and are believed to trigger the onset of ice-melt in the western Arctic. 

Since 1990, research teams led from the University of Washington, Seattle, have placed year-round instrumentation in the strait to measure the properties of the flow.  This measurement program is continuing today, making it one of the longest oceanic records in the Arctic.  The project has often been in collaboration with Russian scientists, since 2004 through the NOAA-led RUSALCA (Russian US Long Term Census of the Arctic Ocean) project.  While originally focusing on the physical measurement of flow speed, temperature and salinity, recent years have included measurements of biological activity and nutrients.  Whale recorders have been installed on the moorings, and measurements of the acidity of the throughflow is due to start this summer by researchers from Oregon State University.  The project was part of the International Polar Year effort (with funding from NSF) and is now part of the Arctic Observing Network (with funding from NSF). 

For more details see:
- home page for the Bering Strait project hosted at the University of Washington.  This site also contains links to cruise reports and data.
- home page for the Bering Strait IPY project
- the RUSALCA program.