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Publication Date
13 March 2023

Human-induced changes in the global meridional overturning circulation are emerging from the Southern Ocean



In a warming climate, the Global Meridional Overturning Circulation (GMOC) is expected to change significantly with a risk of disrupting the global redistribution of ocean properties that sustains marine ecosystems, carbon cycle, and others. Here we make a novel attempt to utilize a diagnostic ocean & sea-ice model to estimate the GMOC and its interdecadal changes since the mid-1950s that are consistent with historical hydrographic observations. We find that significant changes in the GMOC have already occurred, most notably in the upper and lower overturning cells in the Southern Ocean. The former has expanded poleward and into denser water and strengthened by 3–4 Sv since the mid-1970s, while the latter has contracted and weakened by a similar rate during the same period. These changes are driven by the increasing Southern Hemisphere (SH) Ferrel cell and associated increases in the westerlies and the surface buoyancy loss over its sinking branch, and the increasing Antarctic meltwater discharge, in response to ozone depletion in the SH stratosphere and increasing atmospheric CO2. A large-scale readjustment of the GMOC seems to be underway in the South Atlantic and Indo-Pacific Oceans since the mid-2000s in response to the Southern Ocean changes.

Lee, Sang-Ki, Rick Lumpkin, Fabian Gomez, Stephen Yeager, Hosmay Lopez, Filippos Takglis, Shenfu Dong, Wilton Aguiar, Dongmin Kim, and Molly Baringer. 2023. “Human-Induced Changes In The Global Meridional Overturning Circulation Are Emerging From The Southern Ocean”. Communications Earth & Environment 4 (1). Springer Science and Business Media LLC. doi:10.1038/s43247-023-00727-3.
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