Southern Ocean in the Earth System


Southern Ocean processes influence climate and biogeochemical cycles on global scales. The Southern Ocean connects the ocean basins and links the shallow and deep limbs of the overturning circulation, a global-scale system of ocean currents that determines how much heat and carbon the ocean can store. The upwelling of deep waters releases carbon and returns nutrients that support biological productivity in the surface ocean; the compensating sinking of surface waters into the ocean interior sequesters carbon and heat and renews oxygen levels. The capacity of the ocean to moderate the pace of climate change is therefore controlled strongly by the circulation of the Southern Ocean. The future of the Antarctic ice sheet, and therefore sea-level rise, is increasingly believed to be determined by the rate at which the relatively warm ocean can melt floating glacial ice around the margin of Antarctica. Given the significance of the Southern Ocean to the Earth system, any change in the region would have impacts that extend well beyond the high southern latitudes. Recent studies suggest change is underway: the Southern Ocean is warming and freshening throughout most of the ocean depth; major currents are shifting to the south, causing changes in sea-level and the distribution of organisms and supplying additional heat to melt ice around the rim of Antarctica; and the future of the Southern Ocean carbon sink is a topic of vigorous debate. Many of these discoveries are the result of the concerted multidisciplinary effort during the International Polar Year (IPY), which has provided an unprecedented view of the status of the Southern Ocean, a baseline for assessing change, and a demonstration of the feasibility, value and timeliness of a Southern Ocean Observing System.


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Dr. Sergio Marenssi Director of Science, Argentine Antarctic Institute, Argentina


Dr. Susan Solomon Senior Scientist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, United States
Dr. Jean-Robert Petit Directeur de Recherche, Center National de la Recherche, France
Dr. Antony Stark Scientist, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Dr. Stephen Rintoul CSIRO Fellow, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia


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