SOCCOM & the Southern Ocean


Nov 30, 2016


Climate Central has partnered with 10 other institutions including Princeton University, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, NOAA, and NASA to study the Southern Ocean in an NSF-funded project called Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling (SOCCOM). The Southern Ocean may seem remote, both geographically and to our daily lives, but this body of water that encircles Antarctica is critical to regulating Earth’s climate: the Southern Ocean absorbs a huge amount of carbon dioxide and heat from the atmosphere. Additionally, nutrient-rich cold waters rise up in the Southern Ocean and bring those nutrients to the surface and northward, feeding 75 percent of the biological production throughout the rest of the world’s oceans.

Despite its importance, the rough seas surrounding Antarctica have made the Southern Ocean a very difficult place to take scientific measurements—especially during the harsh winter. That is, until now.

Here’s where technology comes in. 

The scientists in this project will deploy about 200 robotic floats over the course of six years and will use the data they collect to better understand and predict how the Earth will respond to changes in carbon dioxide and heat in the atmosphere. The sensors on the floats take measurements throughout the water column, capturing a snapshot of the Southern Ocean’s “vital signs,” including pH, nitrate content, oxygen content, salinity and of course, temperature. This animation details the process. This new technology is the first of its kind and has already shed some light on the Southern Ocean’s dynamics.

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