National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2016

Differential patterns of divergence in ocean drifters: Implications for larval flatfish advection and recruitment

Wilderbuer, T., J.T. Duffy-Anderson, P.J. Stabeno, and A. Hermann

J. Sea Res., 111, 11–24, doi: 10.1016/j.seares.2016.03.003, Proceedings of the Ninth International Symposium on Flatfish Ecology Part II (2016)

In an effort to better understand the physics of the eastern Bering Sea shelf current as it relates to flatfish advection to favorable near-shore areas, sets of multiple, satellite-tracked, oceanic drifters were released in 2010, 2012 and 2013. The release sites and dates were chosen to coincide with known spawning locations for northern rock sole (Lepidopsetta polyxystra) and known time of larval emergence. The drifters were drogued 5-each at 20 and 40 m in 2010 and 2012, and 4 at 40 m and 2 at 20 m in 2013. The locations of drifters were used to calculate divergence over a 90-day period that corresponds to the larval pelagic duration of Bering Sea shelf northern rock sole. Results indicate that there are alternating periods of positive and negative divergence with an overall trend toward drifter separation after 90 days, roughly the end of the rock sole planktonic larval period. Examination of the drifter behavior at the hourly scale indicates that semi-daily tidal forcing is the primary mechanism of drifter divergence and convergence. Field observations of early-stage northern rock sole larval distributions over the same period indicate that predominant oceanographic advection is northerly over the continental shelf among preflexion stages, though juveniles are predominantly found in nursery areas located ~ 400 km eastward and inshore. Evidence from drifter deployments suggests that behavioral movements during the postflexion and early juvenile larval phases that optimize eastward periodicity of tidal cycles is a viable mechanism to enhance eastward movement of northern rock sole larvae to favorable nursery grounds. A regional ocean modeling system (ROMS) was implemented to track the different rates of dispersion in simulations both with and without tidal forcing, and was used to estimate effective horizontal eddy diffusion in the case of both isobaric (fixed-depth) and Lagrangian (neutrally buoyant) particles. The addition of tidal forcing had a pronounced effect on horizontal eddy diffusion, increasing its value by a factor of five in the case of fixed-depth floats, as compared with a factor of two in the case of neutrally buoyant floats. Further, the incorporation of diurnal vertical behavior in phase with favorable (on shelf) tides transported the “larvae” ~ 400 km within 40 days of their release date. Empirical drifter data coupled with model evidence suggest that semi-diurnal tidal forcing is the primary mechanism of eastward advection over the Bering Sea shelf, and larval observational data suggest that northern rock sole larvae can maximize their eastward transport to nursery grounds by synchronizing their vertical movements to tidal periodicity during the postflexion stage.

Feature Publications | Outstanding Scientific Publications

Contact Sandra Bigley |