Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Article
  • Published:

Recent state transition of the Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort Gyre


The anti-cyclonic Beaufort Gyre is the dominant circulation of the Canada Basin and the largest freshwater reservoir in the Arctic Ocean. During the first part of the 2000s, the gyre intensified, expanded and accumulated freshwater. Using an extensive hydrographic dataset from 2003 to 2019, together with updated satellite dynamic ocean topography data, we find that over the past decade the Beaufort Gyre has transitioned to a quasi-stable state in which the increase in sea surface height of the gyre has slowed and the freshwater content has plateaued. In addition, the cold halocline layer, which isolates the warm/salty Atlantic water at depth, has thinned significantly due to less input of cold and salty water stemming from the Pacific Ocean and the Chukchi Sea shelf, together with greater entrainment of lighter water from the eastern Beaufort Sea. This recent transition of the Beaufort Gyre is associated with a southeastward shift in its location as a result of variation in the regional wind forcing. Our results imply that continued thinning of the cold halocline layer could modulate the present stable state, allowing for a freshwater release. This, in turn, could freshen the subpolar North Atlantic, impacting the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Long-term trends of the BG: 2003–2011 versus 2012–2019.
Fig. 2: Spatial distribution of the trends in the BG region.
Fig. 3: Linear trends of volume within salinity classes in relation to the source water.
Fig. 4: Inferred contributions to the CHL in the BG region.

Similar content being viewed by others

Data availability

The historical hydrographic data are obtained from the following sources: (1) Unified Database for Arctic and Subarctic Hydrography (; (2) World Ocean Database 2018 (; (3) Arctic Data Center (; (4) Beaufort Gyre Exploration Project (; (5) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (; (6) NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center (; (7) University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Marine Science (available at the Arctic Ocean Observing System,; (8) Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Institute of Ocean Sciences (; (9) JAMSTEC (; and (10) Korea Polar Data Center ( The dynamic ocean topography data produced by ref. 42 and the updated dynamic ocean topography data from 2011 to 2019 are available at The GRACE data can be accessed via The ERA5 reanalysis data can be obtained from the ECMWF ( The GLORYS12 reanalysis is available at the Copernicus Marine and Environment Monitoring Service ( The JAMSTEC mooring data at the mouth of the Barrow Canyon from 2003 to 2019 are available at The monthly time series of the Arctic Oscillation index is obtained from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center ( The bathymetry data used in the study are from the International Bathymetric Chart of the Arctic Ocean version 3 (ref. 49) (

Code availability

The MATLAB scripts used to compute the freshwater content and to calculate the Lagrangian particle trajectories can be accessed upon request to the corresponding author.


  1. Proshutinsky, A., Krishfield, R. & Timmermans, M. L. Introduction to special collection on Arctic Ocean modeling and observational synthesis (FAMOS) 2: Beaufort Gyre phenomenon. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 125, e2019JC015400 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Proshutinsky, A. et al. Beaufort Gyre freshwater reservoir: state and variability from observations. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 114, C00A10 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Timmermans, M. L. & Marshall, J. Understanding Arctic Ocean circulation: a review of ocean dynamics in a changing climate. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 125, e2018JC014378 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Steele, M. et al. Circulation of summer Pacific halocline water in the Arctic Ocean. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 109, C02027 (2004).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Proshutinsky, A. et al. Analysis of the Beaufort Gyre freshwater content in 2003–2018. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 124, 9658–9689 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Armitage, T. W. et al. Arctic Ocean surface geostrophic circulation 2003–2014. Cryosphere 11, 1767–1780 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Giles, K. A., Laxon, S. W., Ridout, A. L., Wingham, D. J. & Bacon, S. Western Arctic Ocean freshwater storage increased by wind-driven spin-up of the Beaufort Gyre. Nat. Geosci. 5, 194–197 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Zhong, W., Steele, M., Zhang, J. & Cole, S. T. Circulation of Pacific winter water in the western Arctic Ocean. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 124, 863–881 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Regan, H. C., Lique, C. & Armitage, T. W. The Beaufort Gyre extent, shape, and location between 2003 and 2014 from satellite observations. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 124, 844–862 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Tsamados, M. et al. Impact of variable atmospheric and oceanic form drag on simulations of Arctic sea ice. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 44, 1329–1353 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Yang, J. The seasonal variability of the Arctic Ocean Ekman transport and its role in the mixed layer heat and salt fluxes. J. Clim. 19, 5366–5387 (2006).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Meneghello, G., Marshall, J., Timmermans, M.-L. & Scott, J. Observations of seasonal upwelling and downwelling in the Beaufort Sea mediated by sea ice. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 48, 795–805 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  13. Manucharyan, G. E. & Spall, M. A. Wind-driven freshwater buildup and release in the Beaufort Gyre constrained by mesoscale eddies. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 273–282 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Zhang, J. et al. The Beaufort Gyre intensification and stabilization: a model‐observation synthesis. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 121, 7933–7952 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  15. Itoh, M., Nishino, S., Kawaguchi, Y. & Kikuchi, T. Barrow Canyon volume, heat, and freshwater fluxes revealed by long‐term mooring observations between 2000 and 2008. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 118, 4363–4379 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  16. Lin, P., Pickart, R. S., Moore, G., Spall, M. A. & Hu, J. Characteristics and dynamics of wind-driven upwelling in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea based on six years of mooring data. Deep Sea Res. II 162, 79–92 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  17. Lin, P., Pickart, R. S., Våge, K. & Li, J. Fate of warm Pacific water in the Arctic Basin. Geophys. Res. Lett. 48, e2021GL094693 (2021).

    Google Scholar 

  18. Timmermans, M. L., Marshall, J., Proshutinsky, A. & Scott, J. Seasonally derived components of the Canada Basin halocline. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 5008–5015 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Krishfield, R. A. et al. Deterioration of perennial sea ice in the Beaufort Gyre from 2003 to 2012 and its impact on the oceanic freshwater cycle. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 119, 1271–1305 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  20. Itoh, M. et al. Interannual variability of Pacific winter water inflow through Barrow Canyon from 2000 to 2006. J. Oceanogr. 68, 575–592 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  21. Lin, P. et al. On the nature of wind-forced upwelling and downwelling in Mackenzie Canyon, Beaufort Sea. Prog. Oceanogr. 198, 102674 (2021).

    Google Scholar 

  22. Stammer, D. Steric and wind‐induced changes in TOPEX/Poseidon large‐scale sea surface topography observations. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 102, 20987–21009 (1997).

    Google Scholar 

  23. Woodgate, R. A. & Peralta‐Ferriz, C. Warming and freshening of the Pacific inflow to the Arctic from 1990–2019 implying dramatic shoaling in Pacific winter water ventilation of the Arctic water column. Geophys. Res. Lett. 48, e2021GL092528 (2021).

    Google Scholar 

  24. Pacini, A. et al. Characteristics and transformation of Pacific winter water on the Chukchi Sea shelf in late spring. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 124, 7153–7177 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  25. Pickart, R. S. et al. Circulation of winter water on the Chukchi shelf in early summer. Deep Sea Res. II 130, 56–75 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  26. Lin, P. et al. Circulation in the vicinity of Mackenzie Canyon from a year-long mooring array. Prog. Oceanogr. 187, 102396 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  27. Nikolopoulos, A. et al. The western Arctic boundary current at 152° W: structure, variability, and transport. Deep Sea Res. II 56, 1164–1181 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  28. Leng, H., Spall, M. A., Pickart, R. S., Lin, P. & Bai, X. Origin and fate of the Chukchi slope current using a numerical model and in-situ data. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 126, 2021JC017291 (2021).

    Google Scholar 

  29. Li, M. et al. Circulation of the Chukchi Sea shelfbreak and slope from moored timeseries. Prog. Oceanogr. 172, 14–33 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  30. Timmermans, M.-L. & Toole, J. M. The Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort Gyre. Annu. Rev. Mar. Sci. 15, 223–248 (2023).

    Google Scholar 

  31. Karpouzoglou, T., de Steur, L., Smedsrud, L. H. & Sumata, H. Observed changes in the Arctic freshwater outflow in Fram Strait. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 127, e2021JC018122 (2022).

    Google Scholar 

  32. Rudels, B. Volume and freshwater transports through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago-Baffin Bay system. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 116, C00D10 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

  33. Zhang, J. et al. Labrador Sea freshening linked to Beaufort Gyre freshwater release. Nat. Commun. 12, 1229 (2021).

    Google Scholar 

  34. Le Bras, I. et al. How much Arctic fresh water participates in the subpolar overturning circulation? J. Phys. Oceanogr. 51, 955–973 (2021).

    Google Scholar 

  35. Gelderloos, R., Straneo, F. & Katsman, C. A. Mechanisms behind the temporary shutdown of deep convection in the Labrador Sea: lessons from the Great Salinity Anomaly years 1968–71. J. Clim. 25, 6743–6755 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  36. Holliday, N. P. et al. Ocean circulation causes the largest freshening event for 120 years in eastern subpolar North Atlantic. Nat. Commun. 11, 585 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  37. Lazier, J. R. Oceanographic conditions at ocean weather ship Bravo, 1964–1974. Atmos. Ocean 18, 227–238 (1980).

    Google Scholar 

  38. Haine, T. W. et al. Arctic freshwater export: status, mechanisms, and prospects. Glob. Planet. Change 125, 13–35 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  39. Behrendt, A., Sumata, H., Rabe, B. & Schauer, U. UDASH–Unified Database for Arctic and Subarctic Hydrography. Earth Syst. Sci. Data 10, 1119–1138 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  40. Danielson, S. et al. Manifestation and consequences of warming and altered heat fluxes over the Bering and Chukchi sea continental shelves. Deep Sea Res. II 177, 104781 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  41. Smith, W. & Wessel, P. Gridding with continuous curvature splines in tension. Geophysics 55, 293–305 (1990).

    Google Scholar 

  42. Armitage, T. W. et al. Arctic sea surface height variability and change from satellite radar altimetry and GRACE, 2003–2014. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 121, 4303–4322 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  43. Hersbach, H. Operational Global Reanalysis: Progress, Future Directions and Synergies with NWP (ECMWF, 2018).

  44. Lellouche, J.-M. et al. The Copernicus global 1/12° oceanic and sea ice GLORYS12 reanalysis. Front. Earth Sci. 9, 585 (2021).

    Google Scholar 

  45. Woodgate, R. A. Increases in the Pacific inflow to the Arctic from 1990 to 2015, and insights into seasonal trends and driving mechanisms from year-round Bering Strait mooring data. Prog. Oceanogr. 160, 124–154 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  46. Save, H. et al. High resolution CSR GRACE RL05 mascons. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 121, 7547–7569 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  47. Marshall, J. & Radko, T. Residual-mean solutions for the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and its associated overturning circulation. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 33, 2341–2354 (2003).

    Google Scholar 

  48. Bourgain, P. & Gascard, J.-C. The Arctic Ocean halocline and its interannual variability from 1997 to 2008. Deep Sea Res. I 58, 745–756 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

  49. Jakobsson, M. et al. The International Bathymetric Chart of the Arctic Ocean (IBCAO) version 3.0. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L12609 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

Download references


Funding for the study was provided by National Science Foundation grant OPP-1733564 and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant NA19OAR4320074 (P.L., R.S.P.); Shanghai Pujiang Program 22PJ1406400 and Shanghai Frontiers Science Center of Polar Science (P.L.); European Space Agency Project ESA/AO/1-9132/17/NL/MP and ESA/AO/1-10061/19/I-EF and Natural Environment Research Council NE/T000546/1 and NE/X004643/1 (M.T.); and Arctic Challenge for Sustainability projects ArCS and ArCSII of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (M.I., T.K.).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



P.L. led the data analysis and resulting interpretation, with assistance from all co-authors. P.L. and R.S.P. wrote the manuscript with input from all co-authors. H.H. and M.T. produced the updated dynamic ocean topography data from 2011 to 2019. M.I. and T.K. provided the long-term data from the mooring array at the mouth of Barrow Canyon.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Peigen Lin.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Geoscience thanks the anonymous reviewers for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editors: Rebecca Neely and Tom Richardson, in collaboration with the Nature Geoscience team.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Climatological mean dynamic ocean topography (DOT) from 2003-2019.

The data for water depths shallower than 100 m are not shown.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Variations of extent versus position of the Beaufort Gyre.

The extent of Beaufort Gyre (BG) is estimated as the area within the isoline of 0.6 × maximum DOT for each year (the result is not sensitive to the fraction used) (black curve). As in Fig. 4a, the position of Beaufort Gyre is represented by the distance of the projected core along the line in Fig. 2c (red curve).

Extended Data Fig. 3 Comparison of GLORYS12 reanalysis velocities versus mooring data.

a, The location of the moorings at the shelfbreak of western Beaufort Sea (BS3, red star) and in the vicinity of Bering Strait (A3, blue star). b, Timeseries of alongstream velocity of GLORYS12 (black curve) versus BS3 mooring (red curve), and GLORYS12 versus A3 mooring (blue curve).

Extended Data Fig. 4 Timeseries of the Arctic Oscillation Index.

The shading denotes the monthly values; the annual averages are the blue symbols/curve, including the standard errors; the 3-year lowpassed timeseries is the red curve. The monthly timeseries is obtained from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. The standard error is the standard deviation divided by square root of the degrees of freedom (=12) for each year.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Data coverage of the composite historical hydrographic dataset.

a, Geographical map of the data distribution, including the location of the Barrow Canyon mooring array (red stars). b, The number of profiles in each year corresponding to the warm months and the monthly distribution.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Vertical structure of water column in the Beaufort Gyre region.

Mean profiles of a, salinity, b, potential temperature (°C), and c, buoyancy frequency (N2, s-2) in the upper 500 m for the time period 2003-2019. The dashed curves denote the standard deviation. The four layers delimited by the red solid lines are (from the surface downward): the surface layer, the warm halocline layer, the cold halocline layer (shaded), and the Atlantic water layer (see Methods for the definitions).

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Lin, P., Pickart, R.S., Heorton, H. et al. Recent state transition of the Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort Gyre. Nat. Geosci. 16, 485–491 (2023).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing Anthropocene

Sign up for the Nature Briefing: Anthropocene newsletter — what matters in anthropocene research, free to your inbox weekly.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing: Anthropocene