Southern Ocean carbon-wind stress feedback

Ben Bronselaer, Laure Zanna, David R. Munday, Jason Lowe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Southern Ocean is the largest sink of anthropogenic carbon in the present-day climate. Here, Southern Ocean pCO 2 and its dependence on wind forcing are investigated using an equilibrium mixed layer carbon budget. This budget is used to derive an expression for Southern Ocean pCO 2 sensitivity to wind stress. Southern Ocean pCO 2 is found to vary as the square root of area-mean wind stress, arising from the dominance of vertical mixing over other processes such as lateral Ekman transport. The expression for p\hbox {CO}_{2} is validated using idealised coarse-resolution ocean numerical experiments. Additionally, we show that increased (decreased) stratification through surface warming reduces (increases) the sensitivity of the Southern Ocean pCO 2 to wind stress. The scaling is then used to estimate the wind-stress induced changes of atmospheric pCO 2 in CMIP5 models using only a handful of parameters. The scaling is further used to model the anthropogenic carbon sink, showing a long-term reversal of the Southern Ocean sink for large wind stress strength.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2743-2757
Number of pages15
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018


  • Air–sea carbon fluxes
  • Carbon cycle
  • Climate feedback
  • Southern Ocean
  • Wind stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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