Major Features of the Summer Near-Surface Circulation of Western Baffin Bay, 1978 and 1979

  • D.B. Fissel
  • D.D. Lemon
  • J.R. Birch
Keywords: Measurement, Ocean currents, Spatial distribution, Water masses, Baffin Bay-Davis Strait, Lancaster Sound, Nunavut


In the summers of 1978 and 1979, an extensive physical oceanographic program was carried out in western Baffin Bay and Lancaster Sound. Data collected include satellite-tracked drifter measurements, CTD profiles and time series of subsurface currents. They indicate that the near-surface circulation of the area is dominated by the southward-flowing Baffin Current. This current, observed to extend at least as far north as Lady Ann Strait (76° N) and south to Cape Dyer (67° N), is largely confined to within 100 km of the coastline. It varies in both intensity and width with the strongest flows occurring where the current follows a cyclonic intrusion into and out of eastern Lancaster Sound; here in the core of the current the median near-surface (4 to 11 m) speeds are 75 cm/s, decreasing to 50 cm/s at 40 m depth and 25 cm/s at 250 m depth. To the east of Devon, Bylot and Baffin islands, the current is well-defined, but generally less intense with typical near-surface speeds of 30 cm/s. Important spatial variations occurred in the circulation of the area. In eastern Lancaster Sound, two distinct and alternating flow patterns were observed in the strong intrusive current in the summer of 1979. Transient large-scale meanders of the circulation were detected in the offshore portion of the Baffin Current off the east coasts of Bylot and Baffin islands. Between the eastern coastline of Bylot Island and the core of the southeasterly flowing Baffin Current, anticyclonic eddies of approximately 20 km diameter occasionally occurred.

Key words: Baffin Bay, Baffin Current, circulation, Lancaster Sound, oceanography, surface currents, sub-surface currents