The Potential for Using Little Diomede Island as a Platform for Observing Environmental Conditions in Bering Strait

  • Lee W. Cooper
  • Louis A. Codispoti
  • Vincent Kelly
  • Gay G. Sheffield
  • Jacqueline M. Grebmeier
Keywords: Diomede, Bering Strait, Arctic oceanography, oxygen isotopes, nutrients


The Pacific waters that enter the Arctic via the Bering Strait exert a major influence on the Arctic Ocean’s stratification, ice cover, and ecosystem. We demonstrate the potential of a shore-based laboratory to monitor the water masses that flow predominantly northward past Little Diomede Island in the center of the Bering Strait into the Arctic Ocean. We determined near-surface water column salinity, inorganic nutrient concentrations, natural fluorescence associated with chlorophyll, and the oxygen isotope composition of seawater, both in summer during the open-water period and in late winter under ice-covered conditions, by pumping ashore water from shallow depths near the island. Additional surveys were undertaken within 5 km of the island to assess the influence of local sources of nutrients. Water mass variability was much greater during the open-water period than under ice-covered conditions, presumably because the relatively immobile ice cover attenuates wind forcing and the decrease in run-off reduces cross-shelf gradients. The mean oxygen isotope composition of the summer (?18O = -1.11‰) and late winter (?18O = -0.98) collections, however, was close to that which has been established for Bering Sea waters in the Pacific-dominated upper halocline of the Arctic Ocean (-1.1‰) particularly considering the higher seasonal flow of runoff in the summer. A comparison with data from shipboard sampling at various locations across the Bering Strait indicates that the oxygen isotope composition of near-surface water sampled at Diomede varies in response to wind-forcing. If the least saline (< 30.5) water near the Alaska coast is excluded, the ?18O values of Diomede and shipboard samples cannot be distinguished statistically. This similarity suggests that the water sampled from the island also reasonably represents the ?18O value of Bering Sea waters that contribute to the upper halocline of the Arctic Ocean. Effects of benthic recycling, human activity, and seabird nesting on nutrient concentrations appeared to be concentrated within ~200 m of the island. Our results are discussed in the practical context of availability of electricity, interested local residents, and a geotechnical study indicating that it is feasible to construct and operate a more permanent undersea water intake system to improve environmental observation capabilities in the Bering Strait region.