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On the Relationship between Southern Ocean Overturning and ACC Transport

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  • 1 Research School of Earth Sciences, and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
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Abstract

The eddy field in the Southern Ocean offsets the impact of strengthening winds on the meridional overturning circulation and Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) transport. There is widespread belief that the sensitivities of the overturning and ACC transport are dynamically linked, with limitation of the ACC transport response implying limitation of the overturning response. Here, an idealized numerical model is employed to investigate the response of the large-scale circulation in the Southern Ocean to wind stress perturbations at eddy-permitting to eddy-resolving scales. Significant differences are observed between the sensitivities and the resolution dependence of the overturning and ACC transport, indicating that they are controlled by distinct dynamical mechanisms. The modeled overturning is significantly more sensitive to change than the ACC transport, with the possible implication that the Southern Ocean overturning may increase in response to future wind stress changes without measurable changes in the ACC transport. It is hypothesized that the dynamical distinction between the zonal and meridional transport sensitivities is derived from the depth dependence of the extent of cancellation between the Ekman and eddy-induced transports.

Corresponding author address: Adele K. Morrison, Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia. E-mail: adele.morrison@anu.edu.au

Abstract

The eddy field in the Southern Ocean offsets the impact of strengthening winds on the meridional overturning circulation and Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) transport. There is widespread belief that the sensitivities of the overturning and ACC transport are dynamically linked, with limitation of the ACC transport response implying limitation of the overturning response. Here, an idealized numerical model is employed to investigate the response of the large-scale circulation in the Southern Ocean to wind stress perturbations at eddy-permitting to eddy-resolving scales. Significant differences are observed between the sensitivities and the resolution dependence of the overturning and ACC transport, indicating that they are controlled by distinct dynamical mechanisms. The modeled overturning is significantly more sensitive to change than the ACC transport, with the possible implication that the Southern Ocean overturning may increase in response to future wind stress changes without measurable changes in the ACC transport. It is hypothesized that the dynamical distinction between the zonal and meridional transport sensitivities is derived from the depth dependence of the extent of cancellation between the Ekman and eddy-induced transports.

Corresponding author address: Adele K. Morrison, Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia. E-mail: adele.morrison@anu.edu.au
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