Southern Ocean dynamics, circulation and water mass formation

Prof England

Project leader: Prof Matthew England (UNSW)

Staff and students: Dr Andrew Lenton (CSIRO); Mr Zhi Li (UNSW PhD student); Dr Steve Rintoul (CSIRO); Dr Veronica Tamsitt (UNSW).

[Music plays and animation waves appear moving up from the bottom of the screen and text appears above: The Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research]

[Image shows animation waves moving up the screen and over the text and then the image changes to show Professor Matthew England talking to the camera and text appears: Prof. Matthew England, CSHOR Project Leader, University of New South Wales]

Professor Matthew England: The key thing we’re trying to answer in this project is understanding the drivers of the warming in the Southern Ocean.

[Image changes to show a view looking out over a sunrise view of the ocean from the stern of a ship and then the image changes to show a view looking over the bow of the ship]

The Southern Ocean has warmed at the surface in certain sectors, at depths of the shelves and in the ocean abyss, and that warming could have profound implications for climate and we’re trying to understand exactly what is driving that warming and what we can expect into the future.

[Image changes to show Matthew talking to the camera]

The big reason this research is important is that we need to understand what’s happening with the oceans right at the Antarctic margin.

[Image changes to show a view of an ice shelf looking from the deck of a ship and then the image changes to show Matthew talking to the camera]

This is where the oceans sit right up against the ice shelves and ice sheets and the warming there in certain sectors has been very worrying recently. It’s at a rate that exceeds our expectations.

[Image changes to show a graph displaying the global sea level rise and text appears: Global mean sea level anomalies]

With warming there we’re going to see much greater rates of ice melt and that ice melt will drive global sea level rise. So, this is a profound question for humanity.

[Image changes to show a view of the Investigator moving through the water towards the camera]

The goal with this project in CSHOR is to have a comprehensive understanding of the drivers of warming of the oceans around Antarctica.

[Image changes to show Matthew talking to the camera]

Hundreds of millions of people live near the coast around the globe and are vulnerable to even just one metre of sea level rise. The warming around Antarctica at the moment is enough to melt ice at a rate that will contribute to that sea level rise into the future and that will displace people globally. Understanding this rate of warming at the Antarctic margin will help us understand future sea level rise which will help us plan for this inevitable relocation of communities around the world’s coastlines.

[Music plays and the image changes to show animation waves across the bottom of the screen and Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology, CSIRO, UNSW and University of Tasmania logos appear]

Prof Matthew England introduces the Southern Ocean dynamics, circulation and water mass formation project

Latest news

CSHOR Science Seminar Project Presentation (PDF) 2020

Pathways of warm water across the Antarctic slope (Feb. 2020)

A paper by CSHOR researchers (Foppert et al., 2019) was highlighted on the Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole to Pole (MEOP) website. Using the MEOP-CTD database, Dr Foppert and co-authors quantified eddy-driven transport of Circumpolar Deep Water across the East Antarctic slope and identified hotspots of this onshore transport. Read the MEOP article at this link.

Prof Matthew England joins the SO-CHIC Advisory Board (June 2019)

Project Leader, Matthew England, accepted an invitation to join the Advisory Board of a major new European Project, SO-CHIC (Southern Ocean Carbon and Heat Impact on Climate). SO-CHIC is a partnership across 15 European and United Kingdom agencies, including Sorbonne University, Southampton, Reading, Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH), Oxford and Geomar).

CSHOR project team member Veronica Tamsitt joins the CAPSTAN voyage aboard the RV Investigator

One of CSHOR’s postdoctoral fellows, Veronica Tamsitt, sailed from Hobart to Fremantle as a trainer on an exciting 10-day educational voyage aboard the RV Investigator. Veronica joined six other researchers from a diverse group whose expertise span plankton biology to sediments and geophysics, to train a group of 20 honours, masters and PhD students at sea. Read more about the voyage at this link.

Moving windows to the deep ocean

Dr Veronica Tamsitt was invited to write a News and Views article titled, ‘Moving windows to the deep ocean’, for Nature Climate Change (Tamsitt 2018). A link to the article is listed below with the publication.

QNLM Academic Annual Meeting Young Scholars’ Prize

Dr Annie Foppert won second prize of 6,000 YUAN (~AU$1,200) for her presentation at the QNLM Academic Annual Meeting Young Scholars’ Forum held in Qingdao, China in mid-January 2019. Dr Foppert’s talk was titled, ‘Hot spots of eddy-driven transport across the East Antarctic slope’. QNLM invited many young scientists from QNLM partner organisations both in China and internationally to submit a presentation to the Forum. The presentations were of a high calibre across a broad range of ocean science disciplines. A photo from the award giving ceremony can be found on the website post at this link.


Belkin, I., A. Foppert, H. T. Rossby, T., S. Fontana, and C. Kincaid (2020). A Double-Thermostad Warm-Core Ring of the Gulf Stream. Journal of Physical Oceanography, 50, 2, 489–507.

Devries, T., Le Quéré C., Andrews, O., Berthet, S, Hauck, J. Ilyina, T., Landschützer, P., Lenton, A., Lima. I., Nowicki, M. Schwinger, J., Séférian, R. (2019). Decadal trends in the ocean carbon sink. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(24), 11646-11651.

Foppert, Annie (2019). Observed storm track dynamics in Drake Passage. Journal of Physical Oceanography, 3, 867-884.

Foppert, A., Rintoul S. R., and England M. H. (2019). Along-slope variability of cross-slope eddy transport in East Antarctica. Geophysical Research Letters, 46(14), 8224-8233.

Hauck,  J., Lenton, A., Langlais, C, Matear, R. J. (2018). The fate of carbon and nutrients exported out of the Southern Ocean. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 32(10), 1556-1573.

Holmes, R. M., J. D. Zika, and M. H. England (2019). Diathermal Heat Transport in a Global Ocean Model. Journal of Physical Oceanography, 49, 141-161.

Holmes, R. M., J. D. Zika, R. Ferrari, A. F. Thompson, E. R. Newsom and M. H. England (2019). Atlantic Ocean heat transport enabled by Indo-Pacific heat uptake and mixing, Geophysical Research Letters, 46, 13,939-13,949.

Lago, V., and M. H. England (2019). Projected slowdown of Antarctic Bottom Water formation in response to amplified meltwater contributions, Journal of Climate, 32(19), 6319-6335.

Li, Q., & England, M. H. (2020). Tropical Indo‐Pacific teleconnections to Southern Ocean mixed layer variability. Geophysical Research Letters, 47, e2020GL088466.

Li, Q., S. Lee, M. H. England, and J. L. McClean (2019). Seasonal-to-interannual response of Southern Ocean mixed layer depth to the Southern Annular Mode from a global 1/10° ocean model. Journal of Climate, 32(18), 6177-6195.

Meijers, A. J. S., Cerovečki, I., King, B. A., & Tamsitt, V. M. (2019). A see‐saw in Pacific Subantarctic Mode Water formation driven by atmospheric modes. Geophysical Research Letters.

Patel, R. S., Llort, J., Strutton, P. G., Phillips, H. E., Moreau, S., Conde Pardo, P., & Lenton, A. (2020).  The biogeochemical structure of Southern Ocean mesoscale eddies. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 125, e2020JC016115.

Purich, A., England, M. H., Cai, W., Sullivan, A., & Durack, P. J. (2018). Impacts of Broad-Scale Surface Freshening of the Southern Ocean in a Coupled Climate Model. Journal of Climate, 31(7), 2613-2632.

Tamsitt, V. (2018). Moving windows to the deep ocean (News and Views), Nature Climate Change, 8, 941-942.

Tamsitt, V., Cerovečki, I., Josey, S., Gille, S., and Schulz, E. (2020). Mooring Observations of Air–Sea Heat Fluxes in Two Subantarctic Mode Water Formation Regions. Journal of Climate, 33(7), 2757-2777.

Tamsitt, V., L. D. Talley and M. R. Mazloff (2019). A Deep Eastern Boundary Current carrying Indian Deep Water south of Australia. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans.

Webb, D. J., R. M. Holmes, P. Spence, and M. H. England (2019). Barotropic Kelvin wave-induced bottom boundary layer warming along the West Antarctic Peninsula. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans.

Wei, Y., Gille, S. T., Mazloff, M. R., Tamsitt, V., Swart, S., Chen, D., & Newman, L. (2020). Optimizing mooring placement to constrain Southern Ocean air-sea fluxes. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology.

Project objectives

1. Warming in the surface Southern Ocean

Explore the drivers of the Amundsen-Bellingshausen Sea warming, including warming driven by changes in the pathway / temperatures of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), atmospheric teleconnections from the tropics, and coupled ice-ocean feedbacks. A high-resolution ocean model will be used to examine the role of westerly wind anomalies and associated changes in the upwelling and poleward transport of Circumpolar Deep Water. Observations will be used to test and improve the model simulations.

2. Warming in the abyssal ocean

Configure a hierarchy of model experiments to investigate the sensitivity of the lower cell of the Southern Ocean overturning circulation to changes in forcing (wind, heat flux and freshwater fluxes from sea ice melt and melting ice shelves).

3. Warming over the Antarctic continental shelf

Explore what controls the delivery of ocean heat to Antarctic ice shelves. Simulations using global coupled models, high resolution regional models, and idealised process models will be used to assess the sensitivity of ocean – ice shelf interaction to changes in forcing.

4. Carbon uptake in the Southern Ocean

Explore the sensitivity of ocean carbon uptake to changes in the upper cell over the Southern Ocean. A high-resolution biogeochemical model will be used to determine the physical mechanisms responsible for exchange of carbon between the atmosphere and the Southern Ocean (both uptake of anthropogenic carbon and outgassing of natural carbon).

5. Dynamics of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current

Use high resolution models to explore Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) dynamics, with a focus on interaction across scales. The momentum and vorticity budgets of the ACC have long been known to depend on interaction of the current with sea floor bathymetry, but exactly how the large-scale balances are maintained is not understood. Internal waves, sub-mesoscale filaments and mesoscale eddies all likely play a role in determining the response of the current to changes in forcing. High-resolution model studies will be used to explore the impact of local dynamics on the response of the ACC to anomalies in forcing.