5.3.5 Southern Ocean
The Southern Ocean, which is the region south of 30°S, connects the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans together, allowing inter-ocean exchange. This region is active in the formation and subduction of waters that contributed strongly to the storage of anthropogenic carbon and heat (see Section 5.2). It is also the location of the densest part of the global overturning circulation, through formation of bottom waters around Antarctica, fed by deep waters from all of the oceans to the north. Note that some observed changes found in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans are related to changes in the Southern Ocean waters but have largely been described in those sections.
188.8.131.52 Upper-Ocean Property Changes
The upper ocean in the SH has warmed since the 1960s, dominated by changes in the thick near-surface layers called Subantarctic Mode Water (SAMW), located just north of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) that encircles Antarctica. The observed warming of SAMW is consistent with the subduction of warmer surface waters from south of the ACC (Wong et al., 2001; Aoki et al., 2003). In the Upper Circumpolar Deep Water (UCDW) in the Indian and Pacific sectors of the Southern Ocean, temperature and salinity have been increasing (on density surfaces) and oxygen has been decreasing between the Subantarctic Front near 45°S and the Antarctic Divergence near 60°S (Aoki et al., 2005a). These changes just below the mixed layer (~100 to 300 m) are consistent with the mixing of warmer and fresher surface waters with UCDW, suggesting an increase in stratification in the surface layer of this polar region.
Mid-depth waters of the Southern Ocean have also warmed in recent decades. As shown in Figure 5.8, temperatures increased near 900 m depth between the 1950s and the 1980s throughout most of the Southern Ocean (Aoki et al., 2003; Gille, 2004). The largest changes are found near the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, where the warming at 900 m depth is similar in magnitude to the increase in regional surface air temperatures. Analysis of altimeter and Argo float profile data suggests that, over the last 10 years, the zonally averaged warming in the upper 400 m of the ocean near 40°S (Willis et al. 2004) is much larger than that seen in long-term trends (see Section 5.2, Figure 5.3 World). The warming results from these analyses have been attributed to a southward shift and increased intensity of the SH westerlies, which would shift the ACC slightly southward and intensify the subtropical gyres (e.g., Cai, 2006).
The major mid-depth water mass in the SH, Antarctic Intermediate Water (AAIW), has also been freshening since the 1960s (Wong et al., 1999; Bindoff and McDougall, 2000; see Figure 5.6). The Atlantic freshening of AAIW is also supported by direct observations of a freshening of southern surface waters (Curry et al., 2003).