An updated circulation model reveals the Southern Ocean as a powerful influence on climate change.
The world’s oceans act as a massive conveyor, circulating heat, water and carbon around the planet. This global system plays a key role in climate change, storing and releasing heat throughout the world. To study how this system affects climate, scientists have largely focused on the North Atlantic, a major basin where water sinks, burying carbon and heat deep in the ocean’s interior.
But what goes down must come back up, and it’s been a mystery where, and how, deep waters circulate back to the surface. Filling in this missing piece of the circulation, and developing theories and models that capture it, may help researchers understand and predict the ocean’s role in climate and climate change.
Recently, Prof. John Marshall and colleagues have found evidence that the missing piece may lie in the Southern Ocean — the vast ribbon of water encircling Antarctica. The Southern Ocean, according to observations and models, is a site where strong winds blowing along the Antarctic Circumpolar Current dredge waters up from the depths.