The Southern Ocean has been in a state of disequilibrium with its atmosphere and cryosphere during recent decades. Ocean station and drifting float observations have revealed rising temperatures in the upper 3000 m. Salinity has declined in intermediate waters and more rapidly in the sparsely sampled high latitudes. Dissolved oxygen levels may also have decreased, but measurement accuracy is inconsistent. Sea ice area increased from 1979 to 1998, particularly in the Ross Sea, while a decline in ice extent since the early 1970s has been led by the Amundsen–Bellingshausen sector. Fresher waters with lower oxygen isotope content on the Pacific–Antarctic continental shelf are consistent with increased melting of continental ice. Newly forming bottom water has become colder and less salty downstream from that region, but generally warmer in the Weddell Sea. Many ice shelves have retreated or thinned, but others have grown and no trend is apparent in the large iceberg calving rate. Warming and isotherm shoaling within the polar gyres may result in part from changes in the Southern Annular Mode, which could facilitate deep-water access to the continental shelves. Sea-level rise over the past half century has a strong eustatic component and has recently accelerated. Observations over longer periods and with better spatial coverage are needed to better understand the processes causing these changes and their links to the Antarctic ice sheet.
One contribution of 14 to a Discussion Meeting Issue ‘Evolution of the Antarctic Ice Sheet: new understanding and challenges’.
- © 2006 The Royal Society