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Southern ocean circulation

Cunningham, S.A.. 2005 Southern ocean circulation. Archives of Natural History, 32. 265-280.

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Abstract/Summary

The Discovery Investigations of the 1930s provided a compelling description of the main elements of the Southern Ocean circulation. Over the intervening years, this has been extended to include ideas on ocean dynamics based on physical principles. In the modern description, the Southern Ocean has two main circulations that are intimately linked: a zonal (west-east) circumpolar circulation and a meridional (north-south) overturning circulation. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current transports around 140 million cubic metres per second west to east around Antarctica. This zonal circulation connects the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, transferring and blending water masses and properties from one ocean basin to another. For the meridional circulation, a key feature is the ascent of waters from depths of around 2,000 metres north of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current to the surface south of the Current. In so doing, this circulation connects deep ocean layers directly to the atmosphere. The circumpolar zonal currents are not stable: meanders grow and separate, creating eddies and these eddies are critical to the dynamics of the Southern Ocean, linking the zonal circumpolar and meridional circulations. As a result of this connection, a global three-dimensional ocean circulation exists in which the Southern Ocean plays a central role in regulating the Earth’s climate.

Item Type: Publication - Article
ISSN: 0260-9541
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Paper presented at: A Century of "Discovery": Antarctic exploration and the Southern Ocean, international symposium held at the SOC, 28-30 June 2004
Additional Keywords: ocean circulation, hydrography, antarctic circumpolar current, climate, meridional overturning, eddies
Date made live: 17 Nov 2005 +0 (UTC)
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/118663

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