Dominance of the Southern Ocean in anthropogenic carbon and heat uptake in CMIP5 models

Thomas L. Frölicher, Jorge Louis Sarmiento, David J. Paynter, John P. Dunne, John P. Krasting, Michael Winton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

429 Scopus citations


The authors assess the uptake, transport, and storage of oceanic anthropogenic carbon and heat over the period 1861-2005 in a new set of coupled carbon-climate Earth system models conducted for the fifth phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5), with a particular focus on the Southern Ocean. Simulations show that the Southern Ocean south of 308S, occupying 30% of global surface ocean area, accounts for 43%±3% (42±5 PgC) of anthropogenic CO2 and 75%±22% (23±9×1022 J) of heat uptake by the ocean over the historical period. Northward transport out of the Southern Ocean is vigorous, reducing the storage to 33 ± 6 Pg anthropogenic carbon and 12 ± 7 × 1022 J heat in the region. The CMIP5 models, as a class, tend to underestimate the observation-based global anthropogenic carbon storage but simulate trends in global ocean heat storage over the last 50 years within uncertainties of observation-based estimates. CMIP5 models suggest global and Southern Ocean CO2 uptake have been largely unaffected by recent climate variability and change. Anthropogenic carbon and heat storage show a common broad-scale pattern of change, but ocean heat storage is more structured than ocean carbon storage. The results highlight the significance of the Southern Ocean for the global climate and as the region where models differ the most in representation of anthropogenic CO2 and, in particular, heat uptake.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)862-886
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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