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The overturning circulation in the Southern Ocean is fundamentally
important to global climate, not least because it draws down
anthropogenic carbon from the atmosphere and stores it deep in the
ocean, thereby acting as a sink that slows the rate of global warming.
This overturning is partly wind-forced, and the strengthening of the
winds in recent decades has led to fears that this carbon sink may have
become saturated. Understanding the likelihood of this requires detailed
knowledge of the role of mesoscale eddies – the weather systems of the
ocean – in damping the directly wind-forced changes in overturning.
New research has demonstrated that, contrary to previous assertions,
the role of eddies is to partly (not completely) counteract the changes
in overturning driven by the winds. This is of great significance, since
it means that the Southern Ocean sink for carbon is vulnerable to
climatic increases in wind strength, such as have occurred in recent
Most climate models represent the effects of eddies very coarsely.
This research has demonstrated that new and improved schemes for dealing
with eddies are vital if this key part of the climate system is to be
adequately represented in future climate predictions.
Meredith, M.P., A.C. Naveira Garabato, A. McC. Hogg and R. Farneti
Journal of Climate, doi:10.1175/2011JCLI4204.1, 2012
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