Ocean Dynamics

, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 12–31

Six circumpolar currents—on the forcing of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current by wind and mixing

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10236-006-0087-9

Cite this article as:
Olbers, D., Lettmann, K. & Timmermann, R. Ocean Dynamics (2007) 57: 12. doi:10.1007/s10236-006-0087-9


The transport of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) is influenced by a variety of processes and parameters. A proper implementation of basin geometry, ocean topography and baroclinicity is known to be a fundamental requisite for a realistic simulation of the circulation and transport. Other, more subtle parameters are those of eddy-induced transports and diapycnal mixing of thermohaline tracers or buoyancy, either treated by eddy resolution or by a proper parameterization. Quite a number of realistic numerical simulations of the circulation in the Southern Ocean have recently been published. Many concepts on relations of the ACC transport to model parameters and forcing function are in discussion, however, without much generality and little success. We present a series of numerical simulations of circumpolar flow with a simplified numerical model, ranging from flat-bottom wind-driven flow to baroclinic flow with realistic topography and wind and buoyancy forcing. Analysis of the balances of momentum, vorticity, and baroclinic potential energy enables us to develop a new transport theory, which combines the most important mechanisms driving the circulation of the ACC and determining its zonal transport. The theory is based on the importance of the bottom vertical velocity in generating vorticity and shaping the baroclinic potential energy of the ACC. It explains the breaking of the \(f/h\)-constraint by baroclinicity and brings together in one equation the wind and buoyancy forcing of the current. The theory emphasizes the role of Ekman pumping and eddy diffusion of buoyancy to determine the transport. It also demonstrates that eddy viscosity effects are irrelevant in the barotropic vorticity balance and that friction arises via eddy diffusion of density. In this regime, the classical Stommel model of vorticity balance is revived where the bottom friction coefficient is replaced by \(K/\lambda^2\) (with the Gent–McWilliams coefficient \(K\) and the baroclinic Rossby radius \(\lambda\)) and a modified wind curl forcing appears.


Antarctic Circumpolar Current Circumpolar flow Transport theory 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dirk Olbers
    • 1
  • Karsten Lettmann
    • 1
  • Ralph Timmermann
    • 1
  1. 1.Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine ResearchBremerhavenGermany

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