The southern ocean is the steering wheel of the circulation of the adjoining oceans and part of global material circulations

Schematic of the global circulation from Rick Lumpkin and Kevin Speer, J. Phys. Oceanogr., 2007. (Photo: Alfred-Wegener-Institut)

The Southern Ocean forms a continuous ring of water around Antarctica, which connects all other oceans. It thus allows water masses and the heat and dissolved substance contained therein to circulate globally.

Processes at work in the Southern Ocean hence take an essential role in the Earth climate development, but are themselves subject to changes in the atmospheric forcing.

Only by taking into account the feedback mechanisms created by the Southern Ocean can the strength of glacial-interglacial temperature variations and their coupling to CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere be explained.