Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW), which fills the global ocean abyss, is derived from dense water that forms in several distinct Antarctic shelf regions. Previous modeling studies have reached conflicting conclusions regarding export pathways of AABW across the Southern Ocean and the degree to which AABW originating from distinct source regions are blended during their export. This study addresses these questions using passive tracer deployments in a 61-year global high-resolution (0.1°) ocean/sea-ice simulation. Two distinct export “conduits” are identified: Weddell Sea- and Prydz Bay-sourced AABW are blended together and exported mainly to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, while Ross Sea- and Adelie Land-sourced AABW are exported mainly to the Pacific Ocean. Northward transport of each tracer occurs almost exclusively (>90%) within a single conduit. These findings imply that regional changes in AABW production may impact the three-dimensional structure of the global overturning circulation.
Fjord circulation modulates the connection between marine-terminating glaciers and the ocean currents offshore. These fjords exhibit both overturning and horizontal recirculations, which are driven by water mass transformation at the head of the fjord via subglacial discharge plumes and distributed meltwater plumes. However, little is known about how various fjord characteristics influence the interaction between 3D fjord circulation and glacial melt. In this study, high-resolution numerical simulations of idealized glacial fjords demonstrate that recirculation strength controls melt, which feeds back on overturning and recirculation. The relationships between overturning, recirculation, and melt rate are well predicted by vorticity balance, reduced-order melt parameterizations, and empirical scaling arguments. These theories allow us to take into account the near-glacier horizontal velocities, which yield improved predictions of fjord overturning, recirculation, and glacial melt.
The Antarctic Slope Current (ASC) plays a central role in redistributing water masses, sea ice, and tracer properties around the Antarctic margins, and in mediating cross-slope exchanges. While the ASC has historically been understood as a wind-driven circulation, recent studies have highlighted important momentum transfers due to mesoscale eddies and tidal flows. Furthermore, momentum input due to wind stress is transferred through sea ice to the ASC during most of the year, yet previous studies have typically considered the circulations of the ocean and sea ice independently. Thus, it remains unclear how the momentum input from the winds is mediated by sea ice, tidal forcing, and transient eddies in the ocean, and how the resulting momentum transfers serve to structure the ASC. In this study the dynamics of the coupled ocean–sea ice–ASC circulation are investigated using high-resolution process-oriented simulations and interpreted with the aid of a reduced-order model. In almost all simulations considered here, sea ice redistributes almost 100% of the wind stress away from the continental slope, resulting in approximately identical sea ice and ocean surface flows in the core of the ASC in a fully spun-up equilibrium state. This ice–ocean coupling results from suppression of vertical momentum transfer by mesoscale eddies over the continental slope, which allows the sea ice to accelerate the ocean surface flow until the speeds coincide. Tidal acceleration of the along-slope flow exaggerates this effect and may even result in ocean-to-ice momentum transfer. The implications of these findings for along- and across-slope transport of water masses and sea ice around Antarctica are discussed.
Strong relationships between size and other traits have long motivated studies of the size structure and dynamics of planktonic food webs. Size structured ecosystem models (SSEMs) are often used to represent the behavior of these ecosystems, with organism size as a first order approximation of the axis of biological diversity. Previous studies using SSEMs have reported the emergence of localized “peaks” in the size spectrum, a phenomenon that will be referred to in this study as “quantization”. However, SSEMs that are used routinely in Earth System Models (ESMs), they tend to be too coarsely discretized to resolve quantization. Observational studies of plankton biomass have also shown qualitatively similar patterns, with localized peaks along the size spectrum. The conditions under which quantization occurs and the ecosystem parameters that control the locations of the biomass “peaks” along the size spectrum have not been systematically explored. This study serves to simultaneously advance our understanding of the constraints on quantization in size-structured ecosystems, and to suggest an approach to discretizing SSEMs that leverages quantization to select a greatly reduced number of size classes. A size-structured model of the pelagic food web, similar to those implemented in global models, is used to investigate the sensitivity of biomass peaks to predator–prey interactions, and nutrient forcing. This study shows that the location of biomass peaks along the size spectrum is strongly controlled by the size selectivity of predation, and the location of biomass peaks along the size spectrum is less sensitive to variations in nutrient supply, external ecosystem forcing, and vertical heterogeneity. Taking advantage of a robust localization of biomass peaks, the dynamics of a continuous planktonic size spectrum to be represented using a few selected size classes, corresponding to locations of the peaks along the size spectrum. These findings offer an insight on how to approach discretization of size structured ecosystem model in Earth system models.
The subpolar gyres of the Southern Ocean form an important dynamical link between the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) and the coastline of Antarctica. Despite their key involvement in the production and export of bottom water and the poleward transport of oceanic heat, these gyres are rarely acknowledged in conceptual models of the Southern Ocean circulation, which tend to focus on the zonally averaged overturning across the ACC. To isolate the effect of these gyres on the regional circulation, we carried out a set of numerical simulations with idealized representations of the Weddell Sea sector in the Southern Ocean. A key result is that the zonally oriented submarine ridge along the northern periphery of the subpolar gyre plays a fundamental role in setting the stratification and circulation across the entire region. In addition to sharpening and strengthening the horizontal circulation of the gyre, the zonal ridge establishes a strong meridional density front that separates the weakly stratified subpolar gyre from the more stratified circumpolar flow. Critically, the formation of this front shifts the latitudinal outcrop position of certain deep isopycnals such that they experience different buoyancy forcing at the surface. Additionally, the zonal ridge modifies the mechanisms by which heat is transported poleward by the ocean, favoring heat transport by transient eddies while suppressing that by stationary eddies. This study highlights the need to characterize how bathymetry at the subpolar gyre–ACC boundary may constrain the transient response of the regional circulation to changes in surface forcing.
The ongoing Arctic warming has been pronounced in winter and has been associated with an increase in downward longwave radiation. While previous studies have demonstrated that poleward moisture flux into the Arctic strengthens downward longwave radiation, less attention has been given to the impact of the accompanying increase in snowfall. Here, utilizing state-of-the-art sea ice models, we show that typical winter snowfall (snow water equivalent) anomalies of around 1.0 cm, accompanied by positive downward longwave radiation anomalies of ∼5 W m−2, can cause basinwide sea ice thinning by around 5 cm in the following spring over the Arctic seas in the Eurasian–Pacific seas. In extreme cases, this is followed by a shrinking of summer ice extent. In the winter of 2016/17, anomalously strong warm, moist air transport combined with ∼2.5-cm increase in snowfall (snow water equivalent) decreased spring ice thickness by ∼10 cm and decreased the following summer sea ice extent by 5%–30%. This study suggests that small changes in the pattern and volume of winter snowfall can strongly impact the sea ice thickness and extent in the following seasons.
Eastward flow in the Southern Ocean is the primary conduit between ocean basins. A comprehensive study of multi-decadal observational records and model experiments reveals that warming in the upper ocean is causing this flow to accelerate.
Northward flow of Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) across the Southern Ocean comprises a key component of the global overturning circulation. Yet AABW transport remains poorly constrained by observations and state estimates, and there is presently no means of directly monitoring any component of the Southern Ocean overturning. However, AABW flow is dynamically linked to Southern Ocean surface circulation via the zonal momentum balance, offering potential routes to indirect monitoring of the transport. Exploiting this dynamical link, this study shows that wind stress (WS) fluctuations drive large AABW transport fluctuations on time scales shorter than 2 years, which comprise almost all of the transport variance. This connection occurs due to differing time scales on which topographic and interfacial form stresses respond to wind variability, likely associated with differences in barotropic versus baroclinic Rossby wave propagation. These findings imply that AABW transport variability can largely be reconstructed from the surface WS alone.
The Weddell Sea supplies 40–50% of the Antarctic BottomWaters that fill the global ocean abyss, and therefore exerts significant influence over global circulation and climate. Previous studies have identified a range of different processes that may contribute to dense shelf water (DSW) formation and export on the southern Weddell Sea continental shelf. However, the relative importance of these processes has not been quantified, which hampers prioritization of observational deployments and development of model parameterizations in this region. In this study a high-resolution (1/12°) regional model of the southern Weddell Sea is used to quantify the overturning circulation and decompose it into contributions due to multi-annual mean flows, seasonal/interannual variability, tides, and other sub-monthly variability. It is shown that tides primarily influence the overturning by changing the melt rate of the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf (FRIS). The resulting ~0.2 Sv decrease in DSW transport is comparable to the magnitude of the overturning in the FRIS cavity, but small compared to DSW export across the continental shelf break. Seasonal/interannual fluctuations exert a modest influence on the overturning circulation due to the relatively short (8-year) analysis period. Analysis of the transient energy budget indicates that the non-tidal, sub-monthly variability is primarily baroclinically-generated eddies associated with dense overflows. These eddies play a comparable role to the mean flow in exporting dense shelf waters across the continental shelf break, and account for 100% of the transfer of heat onto the continental shelf. The eddy component of the overturning is sensitive to model resolution, decreasing by a factor of ~2 as the horizontal grid spacing is refined from 1/3° to 1/12°.
Current–topography interactions in the ocean give rise to eddies spanning a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. The latest modeling efforts indicate that coastal and underwater topography are important generation sites for submesoscale coherent vortices (SCVs), characterized by horizontal scales of O(0.1−10)km. Using idealized, submesoscale and bottom boundary layer (BBL)-resolving simulations and adopting an integrated vorticity balance formulation, we quantify precisely the role of BBLs in the vorticity generation process. In particular, we show that vorticity generation on topographic slopes is attributable primarily to the torque exerted by the vertical divergence of stress at the bottom. We refer to this as the bottom stress divergence torque (BSDT). BSDT is a fundamentally nonconservative torque that appears as a source term in the integrated vorticity budget and is to be distinguished from the more familiar bottom stress curl (BSC). It is closely connected to the bottom pressure torque (BPT) via the horizontal momentum balance at the bottom and is in fact shown to be the dominant component of BPT in solutions with a well-resolved BBL. This suggests an interpretation of BPT as the sum of a viscous, vorticity-generating component (BSDT) and an inviscid, “flow-turning” component. Companion simulations without bottom drag illustrate that although vorticity generation can still occur through the inviscid mechanisms of vortex stretching and tilting, the wake eddies tend to have weaker circulation, be substantially less energetic, and have smaller spatial scales.