Southern Ocean warming and its climatic impacts

Wenju Cai, Libao Gao, Yiyong Luo, Xichen Li, Xiaotong Zheng, Xuebin Zhang, Xuhua Cheng, Fan Jia, Ariaan Purich, Agus Santoso, Yan Du, David M. Holland, Jia Rui Shi, Baoqiang Xiang, Shang Ping Xie

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The Southern Ocean has warmed substantially, and up to early 21st century, Antarctic stratospheric ozone depletion and increasing atmospheric CO2 have conspired to intensify Southern Ocean warming. Despite a projected ozone recovery, fluxes to the Southern Ocean of radiative heat and freshwater from enhanced precipitation and melting sea ice, ice shelves, and ice sheets are expected to increase, as is a Southern Ocean westerly poleward intensification. The warming has far-reaching climatic implications for melt of Antarctic ice shelf and ice sheet, sea level rise, and remote circulations such as the intertropical convergence zone and tropical ocean-atmosphere circulations, which affect extreme weathers, agriculture, and ecosystems. The surface warm and freshwater anomalies are advected northward by the mean circulation and deposited into the ocean interior with a zonal-mean maximum at ∼45°S. The increased momentum and buoyancy fluxes enhance the Southern Ocean circulation and water mass transformation, further increasing the heat uptake. Complex processes that operate but poorly understood include interactive ice shelves and ice sheets, oceanic eddies, tropical-polar interactions, and impact of the Southern Ocean response on the climate change forcing itself; in particular, limited observations and low resolution of climate models hinder rapid progress. Thus, projection of Southern Ocean warming will likely remain uncertain, but recent community effort has laid a solid foundation for substantial progress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)946-960
Number of pages15
JournalScience Bulletin
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 15 2023


  • Circulation change
  • Greenhouse warming
  • Southern Ocean warming
  • Westerly winds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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