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Freshening of the Alaska Coastal Current recorded by coralline algal Ba/Ca ratios

Journal article
Authors Phoebe Chan
Jochen Halfar
Branwen Williams
Steffen Hetzinger
Robert Steneck
Thomas Zack
Dorrit E. Jacob
Published in Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences
Volume 116
ISSN 0148-0227
Publication year 2011
Published at Department of Earth Sciences
Language en
Subject categories Earth and Related Environmental Sciences, Geochemistry, Geology, Climate Research, Quaternary geology, Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources

Abstract

Arctic Ocean freshening can exert a controlling influence on global climate, triggering strong feedbacks on ocean-atmospheric processes and affecting the global cycling of the world's oceans. Glacier-fed ocean currents such as the Alaska Coastal Current are important sources of freshwater for the Bering Sea shelf, and may also influence the Arctic Ocean freshwater budget. Instrumental data indicate a multiyear freshening episode of the Alaska Coastal Current in the early 21st century. It is uncertain whether this freshening is part of natural multidecadal climate variability or a unique feature of anthropogenically induced warming. In order to answer this, a better understanding of past variations in the Alaska Coastal Current is needed. However, continuous long-term high-resolution observations of the Alaska Coastal Current have only been available for the last 2 decades. In this study, specimens of the long-lived crustose coralline alga Clathromorphum nereostratum were collected within the pathway of the Alaska Coastal Current and utilized as archives of past temperature and salinity. Results indicate that coralline algal Mg/Ca ratios provide a 60 year record of sea surface temperatures and track changes of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a pattern of decadal-to-multidecadal ocean-atmosphere climate variability centered over the North Pacific. Algal Ba/Ca ratios (used as indicators of coastal freshwater runoff) are inversely correlated to instrumentally measured Alaska Coastal Current salinity and record the period of freshening from 2001 to 2006. Similar multiyear freshening events are not evident in the earlier portion of the 60 year Ba/Ca record. This suggests that the 21st century freshening of the Alaska Coastal Current is a unique feature related to increasing glacial melt and precipitation on mainland Alaska.

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