Water mass exchange in the Southern Ocean in coupled climate models

Stephanie M. Downes, Anand Gnanadesikan, Stephen M. Griffies, Jorge Louis Sarmiento

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


The authors estimate water mass transformation rates resulting from surface buoyancy fluxes and interior diapycnal fluxes in the region south of 308S in the Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (ECCO) model-based state estimation and three free-running coupled climate models. The meridional transport of deep and intermediate waters across 308S agrees well between models and observationally based estimates in the Atlantic Ocean but not in the Indian and Pacific, where the model-based estimates are much smaller. Associated with this, in the models about half the southward-flowing deep water is converted into lighter waters and half is converted to denser bottom waters, whereas the observationally based estimates convert most of the inflowing deep water to bottom waters. In the models, both Antarctic Intermediate Water (AAIW) and Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) are formed primarily via an interior diapycnal transformation rather than being transformed at the surface via heat or freshwater fluxes. Given the small vertical diffusivity specified in the models in this region, the authors conclude that other processes such as cabbeling and thermobaricity must be playing an important role in water mass transformation. Finally, in the models, the largest contribution of the surface buoyancy fluxes in the Southern Ocean is to convert Upper Circumpolar Deep Water (UCDW) and AAIW into lighter Subantarctic Mode Water (SAMW).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1756-1771
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography


  • Climate models
  • Coupled models
  • Southern Ocean


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