EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

The daily-resolved Southern Ocean mixed layer: regional contrasts assessed using glider observations

Marcel du Plessis1,2, Sebsastiaan Swart1,3, Louise C. Biddle1, Isabelle S. Giddy1,3, Pedro M.S. Monteiro2, Chris Reason3, Andrew F. Thompson4, and Sarah A. Nicholson2
Marcel du Plessis et al.
  • 1University of Gothenburg, Marine Sciences, Gothenburg, Sweden
  • 2Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observatory, CSIR, Stellenbosch, South Africa
  • 3Department of Oceanography, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  • 4Environmental Science and Engineering, Californian Institute of Technology, Pasadena, United States

Water mass transformation in the Southern Ocean is vital for closing the large-scale overturning circulation, altering the thermohaline characteristics of upwelled Circumpolar Deep Water before returning to the ocean interior. Using profiling gliders, this study investigates how buoyancy forcing and wind-driven processes lead to intraseasonal (1-10 days) variability of the mixed layer temperature and salinity in three distinct locations associated with different Southern Ocean regions important for water mass transformation - the Subantarctic Zone (SAZ, 43°S), Polar Frontal Zone (PFZ, 54°S) and Marginal Ice Zone (MIZ, 60°S). Surface heat fluxes drive the summertime mixed layer buoyancy gain in all regions, particularly evident in the SAZ and MIZ, where shallow mixed layers and strong stratification further enhance mixed layer warming. In the SAZ and MIZ, the entrainment of denser water from below is the primary mechanism for reducing buoyancy gain. In the PFZ, turbulent mixing by mid-latitude storms result in consistently deep mixed layers and suppressed mixed layer thermohaline variability. Intraseasonal mixed layer salinity variability in the polar regions (PFZ and MIZ) is dominated by the lateral stirring of meltwater from seasonal sea ice melt. This is evident from early summer in the MIZ, while in the PFZ, meltwater fronts are proposed to be dominant during late summer, indicating the potential for seasonal sea ice freshwater to impact a region where the upwelling limb of overturning circulation reaches the surface. This study reveals a regional dependence of mixed layer thermohaline properties to small spatio-temporal processes, which suggests a similar regional dependence to surface water mass transformation in the Southern Ocean.

How to cite: du Plessis, M., Swart, S., Biddle, L. C., Giddy, I. S., Monteiro, P. M. S., Reason, C., Thompson, A. F., and Nicholson, S. A.: The daily-resolved Southern Ocean mixed layer: regional contrasts assessed using glider observations, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-917,, 2022.