Abstract

The Southern Hemisphere oceans absorb most of the excess heat stored in the climate system due to anthropogenic warming. By analyzing future climate projections from a large ensemble of the CMIP5 models under a high emission scenario (RCP8.5), we investigate how the atmospheric forcing and ocean circulation determine heat uptake and redistribution in the Southern Hemisphere oceans. About two-thirds of the net surface heat gain in the high-latitude Southern Ocean is redistributed northward, leading to enhanced and deep-reaching warming at middle latitudes near the boundary between the subtropical gyres and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. The projected magnitudes of the ocean warming are closely related to the magnitudes of the wind and gyre boundary poleward shifts across the models. For those models with the simulated gyre boundary biased equatorward, the latitude where the projected ocean warming peaks is also located farther equatorward and a larger poleward shift of the gyre boundary is projected. In a theoretical framework, the subsurface ocean changes are explored using three distinctive processes on the temperature–salinity diagram: pure heave, pure warming, and pure freshening. The enhanced middle-latitude warming and the deepening of isopycnals are attributed to the pure heave and pure warming processes, likely related to the wind-driven heat convergence and the accumulation of extra surface heat uptake by the background ocean circulation, respectively. The equatorward and downward subductions of the surface heat and freshwater input at high latitudes (i.e., pure warming and pure freshening processes) result in cooling and freshening spiciness changes on density surfaces within the Subantarctic Mode Water and Antarctic Intermediate Water.

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