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Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling

The vast Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica, plays a starring role in the future of climate change. The global oceans together absorb 90% of the excess heat in the climate system, and three quarters of that heat uptake occurs in the Southern Ocean, and of all the anthropogenic carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans, the Southern Ocean alone accounts for about half.

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Despite its intrinsic role in the global climate, this particular ocean has gone almost completely unobserved. Scientists have struggled to gather precise measurements on its deep waters because of the harsh environment and extreme remoteness. It’s clear to scientists that the dynamics of the Southern Ocean determine key aspects of our climate, including how sensitive the Earth will be to further increases in carbon and heating, and as a result, in situ observations and predictive models will reveal how the climate will react to further changes.

An NSF-funded $21 million initiative called Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling (SOCCOM) run by Princeton University, with 10 other partners that include NOAA, NASA and Climate Central, was launched in 2014 with the goal of deploying a fleet of autonomous, robotic floats, capable of observing the Southern Ocean (for the first time) year-round and across the entire expanse. Climate Central heads up the program's outreach.

Photos & video of the deployments can be accessed through the SOCCOM Project Flickr.


Check out our Google Hangouts with the SOCCOM scientists as they discuss various aspects of the project’s research.



What is a Float?

Long, cylindrical tubes with the ability to sample temperature,salinity, and pressure at various depths. Floats control their own buoyancy, and thus their vertical position, but otherwise move freely with the currents of the ocean waters. More info available here: What’s a Float (PDF)

Testing the Floats

In this video, follow SOCCOM scientists as they test new technology in SOCCOM floats.

Deploying the Floats

Scientists aboard research ships have chronicled their experiences deploying the individual floats in these cruise blogs:

Hannah Zanowski aboard the R/V Polarstern

Veronica Tamsitt aboard the R/V Palmer

Isa Rosso aboard the R/V Investigator

Earle Wilson aboard the I08S

SOCCOM’s Scientist Blog

Setting Sail

Setting Sail for the Southern Ocean: Hannah Zanowski prepares to set sail for the Southern Ocean aboard the R/V Polarstern

Data from the Floats

Access the freely available data from the SOCCOM floats in the Southern Ocean via this Data Portal.

Instructions for Using the Data Portal >>



An Earth System Model (ESM) is a computer code that uses the mathematics and physics of fluid motion and thermodynamics to predict the Earth’s temperature, winds and currents, moisture and/or salinity and pressure in the atmosphere and ocean. These climate models simulate the atmosphere, the ocean, sea, ice, the land surface and the vegetation on land and the biogeochemistry of the ocean.

SOCCOM scientists are studying several different ESM simulations run by supercomputers at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) and other modeling centers around the world. The scientists are then able to evaluate the models using measurements obtained from floats and satellites.

Carbon Systems Algorithms

Using these Carbon Systems Algorithms, scientists can predict parameters in the Southern Ocean including temperature, oxygen, salinity, pressure, and nitrate using data from two hydrographic surveys that were conducted in the Southern Ocean in the spring of 2011 and 2014. Scientists apply these algorithms to floats in the Pacific Sector and evaluate the measured vs. the modeled acidity.

Southern Ocean State Estimate (SOSE)

SOSE is a general circulation model and is being produced by Matthew Mazloff as part of the Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean or ECCO consortium.

Results of SOSE are freely available for scientific, bona fide, not-for-profit research only.

Observing System Simulation Experiments

Observing System Simulation Experiments use the Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM) and GFDL’s GM2.6 climate model to interpret data and develop analysis and observing techniques in the Earth’s oceans.