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Title: Bathymetric Control of Subpolar Gyres and the Overturning Circulation in the Southern Ocean

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.

Significance Statement

This study explores the impact of seafloor bathymetry on the dynamics of subpolar gyres in the Southern Ocean. The subpolar gyres are major circulation features that connect the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) and the coastline of Antarctica. This work provides deeper insight for how the submarine ridges that exist along the northern periphery of these gyres shape the vertical distribution of tracers and overturning circulation in these regions. These findings highlight an underappreciated yet fundamentally important topographical constraint on the three-dimensional cycling of heat and carbon in the Southern Ocean—processes that have far-reaching implications for the global climate. Future work should explore how the presence of these ridges affect the time-evolving response of the Southern Ocean to changes in surface conditions.

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Award ID(s):
2023244 2023259
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
American Meteorological Society
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Physical Oceanography
Medium: X Size: p. 205-223
["p. 205-223"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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