Meltwater and the global ocean conveyor: Northern versus southern connections

Dan Seidov, Eric Barron, Bernd J. Haupt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


The sensitivity of the ocean circulation to changes in North Atlantic surface fluxes has become a major factor in explaining climate variability. The role of the Antarctic Bottom Water in modulating this variability has received much less attention, limiting the development of a complete understanding of decadal to millennial time-scale climate change. New analyses indicate that the southern deepwater source may change dramatically (e.g., experience a decrease of as much as two thirds during last 800 years). Such change can substantially alter the ocean circulation patterns of the last millennium. Additional analyses indicate that the Southern Hemisphere led the Northern Hemisphere changes in some of the glacial cycles of Pleistocene, implying a seesaw-type oscillation of the global ocean conveyor. The potential for melting of sea ice and ice sheets in the Antarctica associated with global warming can cause a further slowdown of the southern deepwater source. These results demand an assessment of the role of the Southern Ocean in driving changes of the global ocean circulation and climate. Systematic model simulation targeting the ocean circulation response to changes in surface salinity in the high latitudes of both Northern and Southern Hemispheres demonstrate that meltwater impacts in one hemisphere may lead to a strengthening of the thermohaline conveyor driven by the source in the opposite hemisphere. This, in turn, leads to significant changes in poleward heat transport. Further, meltwater events can lead to deep-sea warming and thermal expansion of abyssal water, that in turn cause a substantial sea-level change even without a major ice sheet melting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)257-270
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Oceanography


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