The location of fronts has a direct influence on both the physical and biological processes in the Southern Ocean. Moreover, the Subtropical Front (STF) is believed play a key role in the global climate system. Model simulations have shown that a wind induced poleward shift of the STF may strengthen the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation by allowing a stronger salt flux from the Indian to the Atlantic Ocean. This hypothesis has important implications for our future climate, as global warming scenarios predict an intensification and southward shift of the Southern Hemisphere Westerlies. Nonetheless, confirmation of the theory has been limited by a lack of data and also our poor dynamical understanding of fronts. In this thesis we produce a new working dynamical definition of the STF and study the relation of this and other Southern Ocean fronts to the winds and topography.
We first explore the relative importance of bottom topography and winds for determining the location and structure of Southern Ocean fronts, using 100 years of a control and climate change simulation on the high resolution coupled climate model HiGEM. Topography has primary control on the number and intensity of fronts at each longitude. However, there is no strong relationship between the position or spacing of jets and underlying topographic gradients because of the effects of upstream and downstream topography. The Southern Hemisphere Westerlies intensify and shift south by 1.3° in the climate change simulation, but there is no comparable meridional displacement of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current’s (ACC) path or the fronts within its boundaries, even over flat topography. Instead, the current contracts meridionally and weakens. North of the ACC, the STF shifts south gradually, even over steep topographic ridges. We suggest the STF reacts more strongly to the wind shift because it is strongly surface intensified. In contrast, fronts within the ACC are more barotropic and are therefore more sensitive to the underlying topography.
We then use satellite sea surface temperature (SST) data to show that the traditional STF, as defined by water mass properties, is comprised of two distinct dynamical regimes. On the western side of each basin the traditional STF coincides with a deep current that has strong SST gradients and no seasonal cycle. We define this as the Dynamical STF (DSTF). Further east, the DSTF diverges from the traditional STF and tracks south-eastwards into the centre of each basin to merge with the Sub-Antarctic Front. The traditional STF continues to the eastern side of the basins where it coincides with the so-called Subtropical Frontal Zone, a zone of shallow SST fronts that have little transport and large seasonal cycles.
Finally, we compare the position of our DSTF and previous STF climatologies to the mean wind stress curl field, from satellite scatterometry winds. We find that contrary to previous suggestions, the position of the STF does not coincide with the zero or maximum wind stress curl. Using output from the HiGEM model we show that instead of being controlled purely by the wind field, transport south of the subtropical gyre, including the latitude of the zero wind stress curl, is forced strongly by the bottom pressure torque that is a product of the interaction of the ACC with the ocean floor topography.
Here in these studies we have provided a new simple and reproducible method for identifying fronts. We have also given new insights into the seasonal and decadal variability of fronts, as well as how fronts may respond to future climate change. This has highlighted previous misconceptions regarding the relationship between the position of fronts and winds. Finally we have provided a new framework to study the behaviour of the STF and interpret observations, paving the way for better predictions on the likelihood and impact of future STF changes.
Stockholm: Stockholms universitets förlag, 2013. , 23 p.
2013-03-25, DeGeersalen, Svante Arrhenius väg 8, Geovetenskapens hus, Stockholm, 15:24 (English)
de Boer, Agatha M.