The role of ocean gateways in the dynamics and sensitivity to wind stress of the early Antarctic Circumpolar Current
The date of inception of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current is debated due to uncertainty in the relative opening times of Drake Passage and the Tasman Seaway. Using an idealized eddy-resolving numerical ocean model, we investigate whether both ocean gateways have to be open to allow for a substantial circumpolar current. We find that overlapping continental barriers do not impede a circumpolar transport in excess of 50Sv, as long as a circumpolar path can be traced around the barriers. However, the presence of overlapping barriers does lead to an increased sensitivity of the current's volume transport to changes in wind stress. This change in sensitivity is interpreted in terms of the role of pressure drops across continental barriers and submerged bathymetry in balancing the momentum input by the surface wind stress. Specifically, when the pressure drop across continents is the main balancing sink of momentum, the zonal volume transport is sensitive to changes in wind stress. Changes in zonal volume transport take place via altering the depth-independent part of the circumpolar transport rather than that arising from thermal wind shear. In such a scenario, isopycnals continue to slope steeply across the model Southern Ocean, implying a strong connection between the deep and surface oceans. This may have consequences for the meridional overturning circulation and its sensitivity to wind stress.
Authors: Munday, D. R., Johnson, H. L., Marshall, D. P.