The Southern Ocean in a warming world

Assessing the Southern Ocean in a warming world and its influence on New Zealand’s climate

The ocean stores and transports heat and can release that heat into the atmosphere. Changes in ocean heat dominate the global energy budget, accounting for 93 percent of global energy change since the 1970s.

  • Project Duration: 2015-2019
  • Project funding: $1m

Changes in Southern Ocean temperatures also influence weather systems reaching New Zealand, by altering the position of the southern hemisphere storm track and cyclone development. With so much energy involved, understanding how the Southern Ocean stores and transports heat is integral to understanding climate change in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, scientists don’t have enough measurements from the Southern Ocean to accurately predict how it is changing. In our project, we’re using existing oceanographic data to identify the physical processes that will have the most impact on the NZ Earth System Model (NZESM). We’re developing modelling of ocean processes, including heat storage and transport, for inclusion in the NZESM, and test the model to make sure it replicates ocean behaviour accurately.

In this way, we’re contributing to ensuring the accuracy and reliability of the NZESM, both for our region as well as globally.

Primary Contact and Principle Investigator:

  • Dr. Melissa Bowen, University of Auckland,

Melissa is a physical oceanographer who studies the physical state of the ocean (currents, temperatures, salinities) and the reasons why the ocean varies. Much of her research uses satellite observations combined with in situ observations and comparisons to mechanistic models. More information on Melissa’s work can be found here.

Project partners:

  • University of Auckland
  • NIWA
  • Scripps Institute of Oceanography (USA)
  • GEOMAR (Germany)
  • UK Met Office
  • University of New South Wales (Australia)


Other Earth System Modelling and Prediction projects:

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