Deep Dive in the Southern Ocean

The vast Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica, plays a starring role in the future of climate change. The global oceans together absorb over 90 percent of the excess heat in the climate system and roughly three-quarters of that heat uptake occurs in the Southern Ocean. In addition, the global oceans absorb around 25 percent of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions and the Southern Ocean alone accounts for about half of the uptake of CO2.

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Despite its critical role in our climate system, the Southern Ocean has gone almost completely unobserved. Scientists have struggled to gather precise measurements because of the harsh environment and extreme remoteness. The changing dynamics of the Southern Ocean will in turn drive key aspects of our future climate, including how sensitive the Earth will be to further warming and increases in carbon dioxide emissions. As a result, improved observations are crucial to helping scientists understand and predict how our climate will change.

To that end, an NSF-funded $21 million initiative called Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling (SOCCOM) run by Princeton University, and including Climate Central, MBARI, Scripps, University of Washington, University of Arizona and others, was launched in 2014 with the goal of deploying over a six-year period a fleet of autonomous, robotic floats, capable of observing the Southern Ocean (for the first time) year-round and across the entire expanse. 

Photos & video of the deployments can be accessed through the SOCCOM Project Flickr. And follow the latest float deployment action at SOCCOM at SEA


Changes in Ocean Productivity
Antarctic Circumpolar Current
Heat Uptake
Under the Ice: Float Software
Southern Ocean and CO2
Ocean Acidification


SOCCOM is partnering with teachers and classrooms across the country to inspire and educate students on the Southern Ocean through its pilot “Adopt-a-Float” initiative. This new effort creates a unique opportunity for elementary and secondary-school students to engage directly with SOCCOM scientists through classroom visits and webinars. Students are also given the opportunity to name SOCCOM floats and access float data in real-time.
SOCCOM’s Broader Impacts team identifies science teachers interested in oceanography and pairs them with SOCCOM scientists scheduled to deploy floats in the Southern Ocean.
Are you an educator interested in adopting a float? Contact us to get involved!


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:

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.