The ocean’s meridional overturning circulation is closed by upwelling of dense, carbon-rich waters to the surface of the Southern Ocean. It has been proposed that upwelling in this region is driven by strong westerly winds, implying that the intensification of Southern Ocean winds in recent decades may have enhanced the rate of upwelling, potentially affecting the global overturning circulation. However, there is no consensus on the sensitivity of upwelling to winds, nor the nature of the connection between Southern Ocean processes and the global overturning circulation. In this study, the sensitivity of the overturning circulation to changes in Southern Ocean westerly wind stress is investigated using an eddy-permitting ocean-sea ice model. In addition to a suite of standard circulation metrics, an energy analysis is used to aid dynamical interpretation of the model response. Increased Southern Ocean wind stress enhances the upper cell of the overturning circulation though creation of available potential energy in the Southern Hemisphere, associated with stronger upwelling of deep water. Poleward shifts in the Southern Ocean westerlies leads to a complicated transient response, with the formation of bottom water induced by increased polynya activity in the Weddell Sea and a weakening of the upper overturning cell in the Northern Hemisphere. The energetic consequences of the upper overturning cell response indicates an interhemispheric connection to the input of available potential energy in the Northern Hemisphere


Paul Spence

Research Area

ARC Center for Excellence in Climate Systems Science


Mon, 14/11/2016 - 2:00pm


RC-4082, The Red Centre, UNSW