Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 24 Issue 03

View Issue TOC
Volume 24, No. 3
Pages 114 - 123


Ocean Warming of Nares Strait Bottom Waters Off Northwest Greenland, 2003–2009

By Andreas Münchow , Kelly K. Falkner, Humfrey Melling, Berit Rabe, and Helen L. Johnson 
Jump to
Article Abstract Citation References Copyright & Usage
Article Abstract

Over the last 60 years, the perception of the Arctic Ocean has changed from a hostile, sluggish, steady, ice-covered environment with little global impact to an ocean that has become increasingly accessible, apparently rapidly changing, only partly ice-covered, and connected to the global meridional overturning circulation. Our new observations demonstrate that waters off Northwest Greenland constitute the final limb in the grand cyclonic circulation of the Atlantic layer in the Arctic Ocean. These waters with an Atlantic water mass signature are warming in Nares Strait to the west of Greenland as they are elsewhere. Estimates of the magnitude and uncertainty of this warming are emerging from both moored observations and historical hydrographic station data.

Ocean temperatures sensed by instruments moored 3 m above the bottom between 228 and 366 m depth in Nares Strait suggest a mean warming of about 0.023 ± 0.015°C per year for the 2003–2009 period at 95% confidence. Salinity changes for the same period are not significantly different from zero. Nevertheless, oscillating bottom temperatures covary with salinities. Mean bottom salinities in Nares Strait exceed 34.56 psu while no water with salinities above 34.51 psu occurs in Baffin Bay to the south. These data indicate a dominantly northern source for the waters sensed by our moorings. Mean bottom temperatures hover near 0°C, which suggests minimal influence of waters from the northeastern Amundsen Basin in the Arctic Ocean. Thus, we conclude that the observed warming originates from the northeastern Canadian Basin to the southwest of our study area.

In addition to these mean conditions, we find large interannual variability. For example, significant freshening emerges for the 2003–2006 period that reaches –0.02 ± 0.008 psu per year without significant concurrent temperature trends at three sensor locations. These data contrast with the 2007–2009 observational period when five different sensors all indicate warmer waters (0.063 ± 0.017°C per year) and saltier waters (0.027 ± 0.01 psu per year), which reverses the 2003–2006 freshening. We speculate that some of these observed changes are caused by a changing ice regime. During the 2003–2006 winters, ice was landfast, while during 2007–2009 it was generally mobile year-round. The warming impacts tidewater glaciers along northern Greenland with sill depths below 300 m, for example, Petermann Gletscher.


Münchow, A., K.K. Falkner, H. Melling, B. Rabe, and H.L. Johnson. 2011. Ocean warming of Nares Strait bottom waters off Northwest Greenland, 2003–2009. Oceanography 24(3):114–123, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2011.62.


Coachman, L., and C. Barnes. 1963. The movement of Atlantic water in the Arctic Ocean. Arctic 16:9–16.

Copland, L., D.R. Mueller, and L. Weir. 2007. Rapid loss of the Ayles ice shelf, Ellesmere Island, Canada. Geophysical Research Letters 34, L21501, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007GL031809.

Dumont, D., Y. Gratton, and T.E. Arbetter. 2009. Modeling the dynamics of the North Water polynya ice bridge. Journal of Physical Oceanography 39:1,448–1,461, https://doi.org/10.1175/2008JPO3965.1.

Dunbar, M. 1973. Ice regime and ice transport in Nares Strait. Arctic 26:282–291.

Emile-Geay, J., M.A. Cane, N. Naik, R. Seager, A.C. Clement, and A. van Geen. 2003. Warren revisited: Atmospheric freshwater fluxes and “why is no deep water formed in the North Pacific.” Journal of Geophysical Research 108, 3178, https://doi.org/10.1029/2001JC001058.

Enfield, D.B., A.M. Mestas-Nunez, and P.J. Trimble. 2001. The Atlantic multidecadal oscillation and its relation to rainfall and river flows in the continental US. Geophysical Research Letters 28:2,077–2,080, https://doi.org/10.1029/2000GL012745.

Fahrbach, E., J. Meincke, S. Osterhus, G. Rohardt, U. Schauer, V. Tverberg, and J. Verduin. 2001. Direct measurements of volume transports through Fram Strait. Polar Research 20:217–224, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-8369.2001.tb00059.x.

Falkner, K., H. Melling, A.M. Münchow, J.E. Box, T. Wohlleben, H.L. Johnson, P. Gudmandsen, R. Samelson, L. Copland, K. Steffen, and others. 2011. Context for the recent massive Petermann Glacier calving event. Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union 92(14), https://doi.org/10.1029/2011EO140001.

Gill, A. 1982. Atmosphere-Ocean Dynamics. Academic Press Inc., 662 pp.

Hurrell, J.W., and C. Deser. 2009. North Atlantic climate variability: The role of the North Atlantic Oscillation. Journal of Marine Systems 78:28–41, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmarsys.2008.11.026.

Johnson, H., A. Münchow, K. Falkner, and H. Melling. 2011. Ocean circulation and properties in Petermann Fjord, Greenland. Journal of Geophysical Research 116, C01003, https://doi.org/10.1029/2010JC006519.

Kwok, R., L.T. Pedersen, P. Gudmandsen, and S.S. Pang. 2010. Large sea ice outflow into the Nares Strait in 2007. Geophysical Research Letters 37, L03502, https://doi.org/10.1029/2009GL041872.

Levitus, S., G. Matishov, D. Seidov, and I. Smolyar. 2009. Barents Sea multidecadal variability. Geophysical Research Letters 36, L19604, https://doi.org/10.1029/2009GL039847.

McLaughlin, F.A., E.C. Carmack, W.J. Williams, S. Zimmermann, K. Shimada, and M. Itoh. 2009. Joint effects of boundary currents and thermohaline intrusions on the warming of Atlantic water in the Canada Basin, 1993–2007. Journal of Geophysical Research 114, C00A12, https://doi.org/10.1029/2008JC005001.

Melling, H. 1998. Hydrographic changes in the Canada Basin of the Arctic Ocean, 1979–1996. Journal of Geophysical Research 103:7,637–7,645, https://doi.org/10.1029/97JC03723.

Melling, H., Y. Gratton, and G. Ingram. 2001. Ocean circulation within the North Water polynya of Baffin Bay. Atmosphere-Oceans 39:301–325, https://doi.org/10.1080/07055900.2001.9649683.

Münchow, A., and H. Melling. 2008. Ocean current observations from Nares Strait to the west of Greenland: Interannual to tidal variability and forcing. Journal of Marine Research 66(6):801–833.

Münchow, A., K. Falkner, and H. Melling. 2007. Spatial continuity of measured seawater and tracer fluxes through Nares Strait, a dynamically wide channel bordering the Canadian Archipelago. Journal of Marine Research 65(6):759–788, https://doi.org/10.1357/002224007784219048.

Nikolopoulos, A., R. Pickart, P. Fratantoni, K. Shimada, D. Torres, and E. Jones. 2008. The western Arctic boundary current at 152°W: Structure, variability, and transport. Deep-Sea Research Part II 56:1,164–1,181, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr2.2008.10.014

Parkinson, C.L., and D.J. Cavalieri. 2008. Arctic sea ice variability and trends, 1979–2006. Journal of Geophysical Research 113, C07003, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007JC004558.

Polyakov, I.V., G.V. Alekseev, L.A. Timokhov, U.S. Bhatt, R.L. Colony, H.L. Simmons, D. Walsh, J.E. Walsh, and V.F. Zakharov. 2004. Variability of the intermediate Atlantic water of the Arctic Ocean over the last 100 years. Journal of Climate 17:4,485–4,497, https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-3224.1.

Polyakov, I.V., L.A. Timokhov, V.A. Alexeev, S. Bacon, I.A. Dmitrenko, L. Fortier, I.E. Frolov, J.-C. Gascard, E. Hansen, V.V. Ivanov, and others. 2010. Arctic ocean warming contributes to reduced polar ice cap. Journal of Physical Oceanography 40:2,743–2,756, https://doi.org/10.1175/2010JPO4339.1.

Rabe, B. 2010. Dynamical analysis of flows through Nares Strait, between the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and NW Greenland. PhD thesis, University of Delaware.

Rabe, B., A. Münchow, H. Johnson, and H. Melling. 2010. Nares Strait hydrography and salinity field from a 3-year moored array. Journal of Geophysical Research 115, C07010, https://doi.org/10.1029/2009JC005966.

Rignot, E., and K. Steffen. 2008. Channelized bottom melting and stability of floating ice shelves. Geophysical Research Letters 35, L02503, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007GL031765.

Samelson, R.M., T. Agnew, H. Melling, and A. Münchow. 2006. Evidence for atmospheric control of sea-ice motion through Nares Strait. Geophysical Research Letters 33, L02506, https://doi.org/10.1029/2005GL025016.

Schauer, U., H. Loeng, B. Rudels, V.K. Ozhigin, and W. Dieck. 2002. Atlantic Water flow through the Barents and Kara Seas. Deep-Sea Research Part I 49:2,281–2,298, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0967-0637(02)00125-5.

Wunsch, C., and P. Heimbach. 2006. Estimated decadal changes in the North Atlantic meridional overturning circulation and heat flux 1993–2004. Journal of Physical Oceanography 36:2,012–2,024, https://doi.org/10.1175/JPO2957.1.

Yang, J.Y. 2005. The Arctic and subarctic ocean flux of potential vorticity and the Arctic Ocean circulation. Journal of Physical Oceanography 35:2,387–2,407, https://doi.org/10.1175/JPO2819.1.

Zweng, M.M., and A. Münchow. 2006. Warming and freshening of Baffin Bay, 1916–2003. Journal of Geophysical Research 111, C07016, https://doi.org/10.1029/2005JC003093.

Copyright & Usage

This is an open access article made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution, and reproduction in any medium or format as long as users cite the materials appropriately, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate the changes that were made to the original content. Images, animations, videos, or other third-party material used in articles are included in the Creative Commons license unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If the material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission directly from the license holder to reproduce the material.