Ice-ocean interaction and the Southern Ocean freshwater budget

AMISOR hot water drilling program on Amery Ice Shelf
Drilling a borehole through the Amery Ice Shelf.
Photo: Mike Craven

Changes to the freshwater balance of the Southern Ocean could affect the strength of the global overturning circulation. This circulation (also known as the thermohaline circulation) is the dominant mechanism for transporting heat around the world’s oceans, which means it has a strong influence on global and regional climates. Increased freshwater in the Southern Ocean (due to ice sheet melt, ice shelf collapse and sea ice melt) could cause a slowing in the overturning circulation, driving an abrupt change in climate.

Research in this stream is focussing on two key questions:

  • How will a warming ocean affect floating ice shelves, ice tongues and sea ice around Antarctica?
  • How will changes in ice melt and other processes affect ocean stability and the overturning circulation?
The Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Explorer Autonomous Underwater Vehicle.
AUVs such as this one fromThe Memorial University of Newfoundland can map the underside of sea ice using an upward looking sonar.
Photo: MUN

Research includes developing a better understanding of melting beneath ice shelves, sea ice formation, and changes in precipitation and evaporation over the Southern Ocean. To do this scientists are using remote sensing technologies (from satellites, ships and aircraft), autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), ocean moorings, borehole measurements through ice shelves (such as on the Amery ice shelf) and other field measurements, to collect data through all seasons. The data will be used in climate and ocean models.

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This page was last modified on 27 September 2013.