The Southern Ocean is an important part of the global climate system, but its complex coupled nature makes both its present state and its response to projected future climate forcing difficult to model. Clear trends in wind, sea-ice extent and ocean properties emerged from multi-model intercomparison in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 3 (CMIP3). Here, we review recent analyses of the historical and projected wind, sea ice, circulation and bulk properties of the Southern Ocean in the updated Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5) ensemble. Improvements to the models include higher resolutions, more complex and better-tuned parametrizations of ocean mixing, and improved biogeochemical cycles and atmospheric chemistry. CMIP5 largely reproduces the findings of CMIP3, but with smaller inter-model spreads and biases. By the end of the twenty-first century, mid-latitude wind stresses increase and shift polewards. All water masses warm, and intermediate waters freshen, while bottom waters increase in salinity. Surface mixed layers shallow, warm and freshen, whereas sea ice decreases. The upper overturning circulation intensifies, whereas bottom water formation is reduced. Significant disagreement exists between models for the response of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current strength, for reasons that are as yet unclear.
Keywords: Antarctic circumpolar current; CMIP5; Southern Ocean; meridional overturning circulation; mixed layer; sea ice.