Rebound of shelf water salinity in the Ross Sea

Nat Commun. 2019 Nov 29;10(1):5441. doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-13083-8.


Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) supplies the lower limb of the global overturning circulation and ventilates the abyssal ocean. In recent decades, AABW has warmed, freshened and reduced in volume. Ross Sea Bottom Water (RSBW), the second largest source of AABW, has experienced the largest freshening. Here we use 23 years of summer measurements to document temporal variability in the salinity of the Ross Sea High Salinity Shelf Water (HSSW), a precursor to RSBW. HSSW salinity decreased between 1995 and 2014, consistent with freshening observed between 1958 and 2008. However, HSSW salinity rebounded sharply after 2014, with values in 2018 similar to those observed in the mid-late 1990s. Near-synchronous interannual fluctuations in salinity observed at five locations on the continental shelf suggest that upstream preconditioning and large-scale forcing influence HSSW salinity. The rate, magnitude and duration of the recent salinity increase are unusual in the context of the (sparse) observational record.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't