The Antarctic continental shelves and slopes occupy relatively small areas, but, nevertheless, are important for global climate, biogeochemical cycling and ecosystem functioning. Processes of water mass transformation through sea ice formation/melting and ocean-atmosphere interaction are key to the formation of deep and bottom waters as well as determining the heat flux beneath ice shelves. Climate models, however, struggle to capture these physical processes and are unable to reproduce water mass properties of the region. Dynamics at the continental slope are key for correctly modelling climate, yet their small spatial scale presents challenges both for ocean modelling and for observational studies. Cross-slope exchange processes are also vital for the flux of nutrients such as iron from the continental shelf into the mixed layer of the Southern Ocean. An iron-cycling model embedded in an eddy-permitting ocean model reveals the importance of sedimentary iron in fertilizing parts of the Southern Ocean. Ocean gliders play a key role in improving our ability to observe and understand these small-scale processes at the continental shelf break. The Gliders: Excellent New Tools for Observing the Ocean (GENTOO) project deployed three Seagliders for up to two months in early 2012 to sample the water to the east of the Antarctic Peninsula in unprecedented temporal and spatial detail. The glider data resolve small-scale exchange processes across the shelf-break front (the Antarctic Slope Front) and the front's biogeochemical signature. GENTOO demonstrated the capability of ocean gliders to play a key role in a future multi-disciplinary Southern Ocean observing system.
Keywords: Antarctic Slope Front; Antarctic continental shelf; climate model; iron fertilization; ocean glider; water mass.