Research Projects

Submesoscale Processes in a Changing Climate (SPICE)

Funding Call: Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship, European Commission Horizon 2020
Amount: 2.3 million SEK, 2021-2023
PI: Dr M du Plessis, Host: Professor Sebastiaan Swart (University of Gothenburg), Collaborators: Professor Sabrina Speich (Ecole Normale Supérieure), Dr Brian Ward (National University of Ireland Galway)

SPICE aims to 1) quantify the variability of heat and carbon air-sea fluxes in the Southern Ocean and 2) better understand how ocean submesoscale processes modulate heat and carbon exchange between the atmosphere and the ocean interior. To do this, I use a combination of autonomous ocean robotics and ship-based air-sea flux measurements to reveal how the ocean and atmosphere exchange heat and carbon at scales from hours to days, and what impact this has on the longer-term ability of the ocean to reduce atmospheric warming. Another aim is to show the changes of these air-sea fluxes in response to fine-scale (1-100 km) ocean eddies. Read more in the Project Description.

Pictures of our Seaglider and Sailbuoy deployments in the Southern Ocean, January 2022 taken by Theo Spira. These autonomous vehicles remained at sea for 7 months, collecting valuable data of the upper ocean and lower atmosphere.

Reducing Future Global Climate Uncertainty: Regulation of the ocean’s heat and carbon by small-scale processes in the Antarctic sea-ice regions

Funding call: Wallenberg Acadamy & Vetenksapsrådet, 2016-2026
Role: Postdoc, PI: Professor Sebastiaan Swart

About: The seas surrounding Antarctica are where vast amounts of heat and carbon exchange between the atmosphere and the deep ocean. The physical processes in the Southern Ocean that underpin these exchanges ultimately determine the rate of climate change and therefore mitigation measures. Despite outstanding progress in observational techniques, there are extremely few observations, which has led to arguably the largest knowledge ‘blind spot’ in global ocean-climate research and predictability.

Specifically, new evidence suggests we urgently require to understand highly energetic upper ocean flows and instabilities (called submesoscale eddies and fronts, which evolve at scales of 0.1-10 km and hours-days). Through enhanced vertical exchange of properties, these phenomena change upper ocean mixing and stratification, thereby amplifying heat and carbon exchange at the air-sea interface. The changes in stratification by submeoscale processes can directly alter the transport of these climate-acute properties to the ocean interior, where they are stored at centennial timescales. Critically, contemporary understanding of these processes occurring in the sea ice regions surrounding Antarctica are severely poor due to a dearth of field data. This, in turn, has led to global climate models experiencing the greatest biases of key processes in the Southern Ocean.

To undertake this scientific challenge, we will coordinate state-of-the-art field observations and fit-for-purpose modelling experiments, including deploying under-ice capable ocean robots from ice breaker expeditions. A new ocean topography satellite mission will provide unprecedented high-resolution ‘surface views’ of the submesoscaleprocesses. These cornerstone observations will be combined with models, of varying complexity, to provide new knowledge on how sensitive ocean-ice processes are to our changing climate and thereby improve climate prediction.

Southern Ocean Carbon and Heat Impact on Climate (SO-CHIC)

Funding call: European Commission Horizon 2020, 2019-2025
Role: Postdoc, PI: Dr J.B. Salleé, WP lead: Professor Sebastiaan Swart

About: To contribute to reducing uncertainties in climate change predictions, 16 institutions decided to pool expertise in a common initiative and submit in August 2018 a proposal to the call LC-CLA-08-2018 “Addressing knowledge gaps in climate science, in support of IPCC reports” as part of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. This proposal received funding from the programme and is starting on November 1, 2019 for 4 years. The SO-CHIC (Southern Ocean – Carbon and Heat Impact on Climate) project is born.

Contemporary and Future Drivers of CO2 and Heat in the Southern Ocean

Funding call: South African National Antarctic Program, 2022-2024
Role: Collaborator, PI: Dr Sarah Nicholson

About: The contemporary Southern Ocean mitigates the effects of anthropogenic climate change through its disproportional uptake of carbon and heat. However, it is not well understood how this role will evolve under different emission and mitigation scenarios. The Southern Ocean also remains the largest source of global ocean uncertainty in the global estimates of CO2 and heat fluxes. While much has been achieved globally and regionally in constraining the variability and some of the mechanisms that drive Southern Ocean CO2 and heat fluxes separately, we propose that a significant part of the challenge lies in the lack of research on CO2 and heat together to better understand the feedback and the mechanisms that drive those feedbacks. This project aims to examine the changing role of the Southern Ocean in global climate by looking at the two main drivers CO2 and heat, in an integrated way using an unprecedented 10-year high resolution glider dataset from the 2012-2022 SOSCEx experiments, including two new experiments planned for this proposal, in combination with an established eddy resolving model BIOPERIANT12. We aim to gain a better understanding of how the interaction of atmospheric synoptic cycles (storms) and fine-scale (0.1-100 km) ocean processes influence seasonal-decadal variability of CO2 and heat fluxes. This will include the extent to which they feedback on each other and ultimately contribute to a better understanding of the role of the Southern Ocean in the global carbon-climate system.

The Role of Storms in Shaping Upper Ocean Physics and Primary Production in the Southern Ocean

Funding call: South African National Antarctic Program, 2019-2022
Role: Postdoc, PI: Dr Sarah Nicholson

Surface Ocean Physical Dynamics of the Southern Ocean

Funding call: South African National Antarctic Program, 2015-2018
Role: PhD student, PI: Professort Sebastiaan Swart

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