Importance of mesoscale eddies and mean circulation in ventilation of the Southern Ocean

Igor Kamenkovich, Zulema Garraffo, Romain Pennel, Rana A. Fine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


This study examines the relative importance of the mean advection and mesoscale currents in the property exchange between the Southern Ocean mixed layer and downstream in the upper 2000 m; this exchange is referred to as ventilation. A new, highly efficient off-line tracer model employed here uses precalculated velocities to advect dynamically passive tracers. Two idealized tracers are considered: the Boundary Impulse Response (BIR) tracer, which helps to determine the ventilation pathways and time scales, and the Transient Surface Tracer (TST), which is relevant to transient atmospheric tracers. The importance of eddies is isolated by contrasting the control simulation with a simulation without mesoscale currents. The analysis reveals complex three-dimensional ventilation pathways, controlled by the interplay between the mean advection and eddy-induced spreading. The mean currents carry the tracers eastward within ACC and contribute to the formation of the Antarctic Intermediate Water (AAIW) in the South Pacific and South Atlantic. The main effect of eddies is to disperse tracers away from the mean pathways, and this dispersion acts to retain the BIR tracer in the Atlantic and Indian sectors and reduce the upstream influence of these regions on the South Pacific. In addition, the eddy-induced along-isopycnal spreading within ACC increases the ventilated depth and the inventory of TST. The results can be used to interpret distribution of tracers in the ocean in numerical simulations and observations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2724-2741
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2017


  • Southern Ocean
  • mesoscale eddies
  • tracers
  • ventilation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Oceanography


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