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Free Content Water masses and nutrient sources to the Gulf of Maine

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The Gulf of Maine, a semienclosed basin on the continental shelf of the northwest Atlantic Ocean, is fed by surface and deep water flows from outside the gulf: Scotian Shelf Water (SSW) from the Nova Scotian shelf that enters the gulf at the surface and slope water that enters at depth and along the bottom through the Northeast Channel. There are two distinct types of slope water, Labrador Slope Water (LSW) and Warm Slope Water (WSW); it is these deep water masses that are the major source of dissolved inorganic nutrients to the gulf. It has been known for some time that the volume inflow of slope waters of either type to the Gulf of Maine is variable, that it covaries with the magnitude of inflowing SSW, and that periods of greater inflows of SSW have become more frequent in recent years, accompanied by reduced slope water inflows. We present here analyses of a 10-year record of data collected by moored sensors in Jordan Basin in the interior Gulf of Maine, and in the Northeast Channel, along with recent and historical hydrographic and nutrient data that help reveal the nature of SSW and slope water inflows. We show that proportional inflows of nutrient-rich slope waters and nutrient-poor SSWs alternate episodically with one another on timescales of months to several years, creating a variable nutrient field on which the biological productivities of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank depend. Unlike decades past, more recent inflows of slope waters of either type do not appear to be correlated with the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), which had been shown earlier to influence the relative proportions of the two types of slope waters that enter the gulf, WSW and LSW. We suggest that of greater importance than the NAO in recent years are recent increases in freshwater fluxes to the Labrador Sea, which may intensify the volume transport of the inshore, continental shelf limb of the Labrador Current and its continuation as the Nova Scotia Current. The result is more frequent, episodic influxes of colder, fresher, less dense, and low-nutrient SSW into the Gulf of Maine and concomitant reductions in the inflow of deep, nutrient-rich slope waters. We also discuss evidence that modified Gulf Stream ring water may have penetrated to Jordan Basin in the summer of 2013.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2015

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  • The Journal of Marine Research, one of the oldest journals in American marine science, publishes peer-reviewed research articles covering a broad array of topics in physical, biological and chemical oceanography. Articles that deal with processes, as well as those that report significant observations, are welcome. Biological studies involving coupling between ecological and physical processes are preferred over those that report systematics. The editors strive always to serve authors and readers in the academic oceanographic community by publishing papers vital to the marine research in the long and rich tradition of the Sears Foundation for Marine Research. We welcome you to the Journal of Marine Research.
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