Sensitivity of the overturning circulation in the Southern Ocean to decadal changes in wind forcing
The sensitivity of the overturning circulation in the Southern Ocean to the recent decadal strengthening of
the overlying winds is being discussed intensely, with some works attributing an inferred saturation of the Southern Ocean CO2 sink to an intensification of the overturning circulation, while others have argued that this circulation is insensitive to changes in winds. Fundamental to reconciling these diverse views is to understand
properly the role of eddies in counteracting the directly wind-forced changes in overturning. Here, the authors use novel theoretical considerations and fine-resolution ocean models to develop a new scaling for the sensitivity of eddy-induced mixing to changes in winds, and they demonstrate that changes in Southern Ocean overturning in response to recent and future changes in wind stress forcing are likely to be substantial, even in the presence of a decadally varying eddy field. This result has significant implications for the ocean’s role in the carbon cycle, and hence global climate.
Authors: Meredith, Michael P., Naveira Garabato, Alberto C., Hogg, Andrew McC, Farneti, Riccardo