Our oceans have absorbed more than 90 percent of carbon monoxide emissions over the past 50 years, and the Southern Ocean has taken on most of those emissions.
“The Southern Ocean dominates ocean heat absorption, which is partly due to the geographic location of this region,” said study lead author Maurice Ugenin, Ph.D. from the University of New South Wales. “Antarctica, which is surrounded by the Southern Ocean, is also surrounded by strong westerly winds / These winds affect how the waters absorb heat, and around Antarctica they can have this effect while remaining continuous from the land side – this is a key factor that the Southern Ocean responds to practically for all the net heat absorption in the global ocean”
Hugenin explained that cold water is attracted to the surface of the ocean due to the continuous wind regime near Antarctica. As water moves north, it absorbs heat from the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the Southern Ocean will not save us from the effects of climate change and rising sea levels.
“Sea levels are rising because heat is causing water to expand and ice to melt. Ecosystems are experiencing unprecedented heat stress, and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are changing,” study co-author Matthew England said. “All forecasts for the future, including even the most optimistic scenarios, predict warming oceans in the future / If the Southern Ocean continues to provide the vast majority of heat absorption until 2100, we can see that its warmth will increase seven times compared to what we already observed until today
This increase in heat will be felt throughout the world. It will affect the food web of the Southern Ocean, cause ice shelves to melt and affect ocean currents.
The scientists hope this study will spur continued monitoring of the Southern Ocean, including with Argo buoys, instruments that can track ocean temperatures even at great depths. There is also an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions.
“The less carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere, the less ocean changes and sea level rise,” the researchers say. “This could help limit the level of adaptation needed by the billions of people who live near the ocean, minimizing the detrimental effects of ocean warming on both sea levels and their primary food source.”
This study is published in the journal Nature Communications.