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Numerical simulations of the seasonal circulation patterns and thermohaline structures of Prince William Sound, Alaska

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A three-dimensional, primitive-equation ocean circulation model was applied to Prince William Sound, Alaska (3D-PWS circulation model), under forcing of an ocean tide, freshwater runoff, surface heat flux, Alaska Coastal Current (ACC) throughflow (inflow/outflow), and daily (synoptic), spatially varying winds. The 3D structures and seasonal cycles of the circulation patterns, temperature, salinity (density), and mixed layer are examined. Freshwater runoff significantly contributes to the basin-scale cyclonic circulation, which was not addressed in the previous simulations. Two typical circulation regimes, cyclonic and anticyclonic, characterize the complex flow patterns that depend on the intensities of the ACC thoughflow, freshwater discharge, and the synoptic wind. The spring (April–May) circulation pattern is characterized by a weak (maximum current 0.1 ms−1) anticyclonic flow in the central Sound, while the autumn (September–October) circulation is dominated by a basin-scale, cyclonic gyre (maximum current 0.2 ms−1) due to the increase of the ACC throughflow and the maximum freshwater influence. During the summer, the circulation includes the cyclonic and anticyclonic gyres. During the winter, the circulation pattern is controlled by the basin-scale cyclonic gyre and surface drift driven by the strong north-easterly (south-westward) wind forcing. The seasonal cycles of temperature (T) and salinity (S) vs. depth compare well with the observations. The simulated spring and autumn surface circulation patterns compare qualitatively well with the towed ADCP (acoustic Doppler current profilers) flow patterns and dynamic height patterns in the central Sound. An application of this model to zooplankton overwintering is discussed.

Keywords: freshwater runoff; numerical simulation; overwintering; thermohaline structure

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Institute of Marine Science, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK 99775–7220, USA 2: Computer Visualization Laboratory, University of Maryland, MD 20723, USA 3: Alaska Digital Graphics, Anchorage, AK 99521–2806, USA 4: NOAA Coastal Service Center, 2234 South Hobson Avenue, Charleston, SC 29405–2413, USA 5: Rosentiel School of Marine at Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, Miami FL 83149, USA

Publication date: December 1, 2001

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