SOCCOM News – Winter 2015
PEI’s Jorge Sarmiento, George J. Magee Professor of Geoscience and Geological Engineering and Director of the AOS Program, is the Director of an exciting new PEI program focused on the Southern Ocean that surrounds Antarctica. The Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling (SOCCOM) project is combining cutting edge robotic float technology with high-resolution earth system modeling to expand our understanding of the workings of this remote ocean, which is thought to substantially influence global climate and ecosystems. SOCCOM involves 25 researchers at 13 institutions around the U.S. and has an operating budget of $21 million over six years.
Dan Schuller of Scripps Institution of Oceanography deploys a SOCCOM float just south of the Antarctic circle during a cruise from Cape Town, South Africa to Neumayer Station, Antarctica in December of 2014.
The motivation for the project comes primarily from modeling research, including key studies carried out by Sarmiento’s research group, that suggest the Southern Ocean plays very important roles in the planet’s carbon and climate cycles. Such studies indicate that:
- Southern Ocean accounts for half the ocean’s uptake of anthropogenic carbon from the atmosphere and the majority of its uptake of heat,
- Southern Ocean upwelling delivers nutrients to lower latitude surface waters that are critical to ocean ecosystems around the world, and
- Impacts of ocean acidification from rising CO2 are projected to be most severe in the Southern Ocean, with ecosystem tipping points being reached in a few decades.
Until now, the biogeochemical observations needed to test these model-based hypotheses have been sparse due to the harsh environment that limits access to the region by research vessels, particularly in the Southern hemisphere winter. To escape the limitations of ship-based measurements, the SOCCOM project is taking advantage of Argo autonomous float technology, which has already been widely deployed throughout the world’s oceans. SOCCOM scientists have augmented conventional robotic Argo floats (which measure ocean temperature and salinity) with newly developed biogeochemical sensors that measure carbon (pH), nutrients (nitrate), and oxygen. SOCCOM is the world’s first large-scale biogeochemical (BGC) Argo deployment and will increase the number of biogeochemical measurements made monthly in the Southern Ocean by 10-30 times (more in the Southern Hemisphere winter, when observations are scarcest).
Data from the floats are being made available to the public in real time via the SOCCOM website and will also be incorporated into the global Argo data system to provide easy access to researchers around the world. A “broader impacts” component to the project will work to transfer sensor technology to commercial float developers and also work to ensure that the findings of the SOCCOM project reach the widest possible audience, including policy makers and the general public.
Combined with high-resolution modeling carried out under the project, SOCCOM’s cutting edge observations will help researchers better understand the inner workings of the Southern Ocean and its current impacts on Earth’s climate and biosphere. Looking ahead, predictive model simulations carried out under SOCCOM will also help researchers anticipate how changes in the Southern Ocean will impact global climate in the future.