Wind increase over cooling Southern Ocean driven by tropical warming and polar ozone hole

Monday, 15 December 2014: 8:00 AM
David P Schneider1, Tingting Fan1 and Clara Deser2, (1)National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, United States, (2)NCAR, Boulder, CO, United States
Changing winds over the Southern Ocean have had dramatic impacts on Antarctic sea ice extent, anthropogenic heat and carbon uptake by the ocean, and the contribution of the Antarctic ice sheet to global sea level rise. An overall intensification of the surface westerly winds has been attributed to several different forcings, including stratospheric ozone depletion, greenhouse gasses, and tropical sea surface temperatures (SSTs). However, the relative roles of these drivers have not been well quantified. Reconciling previous explanations, here we show that a combination of tropical SSTs and stratospheric ozone loss largely explains the magnitude, regional patterns, and seasonality of observed lower tropospheric zonal wind trends over the Southern Ocean. We evaluate multiple ensembles of atmospheric model simulations, with each ensemble forced by one or a combination of drivers. Considering all months of the year, tropical SSTs are the largest contributor to observed zonal wind trends over 40°S-80°S. In austral summer, tropical SSTs and stratospheric ozone loss have contributed approximately equally to near-surface wind trends. The tropical contribution in austral summer is associated with tropics-wide warming, which has been moderated in recent decades by a prevalence of La-Niña events. The relative phasing of natural variability with anthropogenic forcing is therefore essential for understanding and predicting Southern Ocean climate change.