Biological and Environmental Research - Earth and Environmental System Sciences
Earth and Environmental System Modeling
29 October 2017

Spiraling Pathways of Global Deep Waters to the Surface of the Southern Ocean

A Lagrangian study investigating the three-dimensional structure of Southern Ocean upwelling


We show that the Southern Ocean upwelling has a complex three-dimensional structure - with discrete narrow pathways entering from the north, and hotspots of upwelling within the Southern Ocean.


We propose a new paradigm for the upwelling branch of the Southern Ocean overturning circulation that consists of a three-dimensional spiral, with most of the subsurface upwelling concentrated at five major topographic features. This work will direct future observational studies to the relevant locations.


Upwelling of global deep waters to the sea surface in the Southern Ocean closes the global overturning circulation and is fundamentally important for oceanic uptake of carbon and heat, nutrient resupply for sustaining oceanic biological production, and the melt rate of ice shelves. However, the exact pathways and role of topography in Southern Ocean upwelling remain largely unknown. Here we show detailed upwelling pathways in three dimensions, using hydrographic observations and particle tracking in high-resolution models. The analysis reveals that the northern-sourced deep waters enter the Antarctic Circumpolar Current via southward flow along the boundaries of the three ocean basins, before spiraling southeastward and upward through the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Upwelling is greatly enhanced at five major topographic features, associated with vigorous mesoscale eddy activity. Deep water reaches the upper ocean predominantly south of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, with a spatially nonuniform distribution. The timescale for half of the deep water to upwell from 30° S to the mixed layer is ~60–90 years.

Adele Morrison
Australian National University
Tamsitt, V, HF Drake, AK Morrison, LD Talley, CO Dufour, AR Gray, SM Griffies, et al.  2017.  "Spiraling Pathways of Global Deep Waters to the Surface of the Southern Ocean."  Nature Communications 8: 172.