The Southern Ocean mixed layer and its boundary fluxes: Fine-scale observational progress and future research priorities

Sebastiaan Swart, Marcel D. du Plessis, Sarah Anne Nicholson, Pedro M. S. Monteiro, Lilian A. Dove, Sandy Thomalla, Andrew F. Thompson, Louise C. Biddle, Johan M. Edholm, Isabelle Giddy, Karen J. Heywood, Craig Lee, Amala Mahadevan, Geoff Shilling, Ronald Buss de Souza

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Interactions between the upper ocean and air-ice-ocean fluxes in the Southern Ocean play a critical role in global climate by impacting the overturning circulation and oceanic heat and carbon uptake. Remote and challenging conditions have led to sparse observational coverage, while ongoing field programmes often fail to collect sufficient information in the right place or at the time-space scales required to constrain the variability occurring in the coupled ocean-atmosphere system. Only within the last 10 years have we been able to directly observe and assess the role of the fine-scale ocean and rapidly evolving atmospheric marine boundary layer on the upper limb of the Southern Ocean's overturning circulation. This review summarizes advances in mechanistic understanding, arising in part from observational programmes using autonomous platforms, of the fine-scale processes (1-100 km, hours-seasons) influencing the Southern Ocean mixed layer and its variability. We also review progress in observing the ocean interior connections and the coupled interactions between the ocean, atmosphere and cryosphere that moderate air-sea fluxes of heat and carbon. Most examples provided are for the ice-free Southern Ocean, while major challenges remain for observing the ice-covered ocean. We attempt to elucidate contemporary research gaps and ongoing/future efforts needed to address them. This article is part of a discussion meeting issue 'Heat and carbon uptake in the Southern Ocean: the state of the art and future priorities'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20220058
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2249
Early online date8 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2023


  • air-sea fluxes
  • autonomous platforms
  • fine-scale
  • mixed layer
  • Southern Ocean
  • submesoscale

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