Dr. Steve Rintoul - The Great Australian Ocean | Marine Climate Change 2012 | 18.73 min

Climate Change is changing Australia's ocean environment.

Dr. Steve Rintoul
Southern Ocean science

New research by teams of Australian and US scientists has found there has been a massive reduction in the amount of Antarctic Bottom Water found off the coast of Antarctica.

Comparing detailed measurements taken during the Australian Antarctic program’s 2012 Southern Ocean marine science voyage to historical data dating back to 1970, scientists estimate there has been as much as a 60% reduction in the volume of Antarctic Bottom Water, the cold dense water that drives global ocean currents.

In an intensive and arduous 25-day observing program, temperature and salinity samples were collected at 77 sites between Antarctica and Fremantle. Such ship transects provide the only means to detect changes in the deep ocean.

The new measurements, which have not yet been published, suggest the densest waters in the world ocean are gradually disappearing and being replaced by less dense waters.

“The amount of dense Antarctic Bottom Water has contracted each time we’ve measured it since the 1970s,” said Dr Steve Rintoul, the voyage leader and oceanographer with the CSIRO and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC. “There is now only about 40% as much dense water present as observed in 1970.”

The ocean profiles also show that the dense water formed around Antarctica has become less saline since 1970.

“It’s a clear signal to us that the oceans are responding rapidly to variations in climate in polar regions. The sinking of dense water around Antarctica is part of a global pattern of ocean currents that has a strong influence on climate, so evidence that these waters are changing is important,” Dr Rintoul said.

The research was carried out by more than 50 scientists on the Australian Antarctic Division’s research and resupply vessel Aurora Australis, which sailed to Commonwealth Bay, west along the Antarctic coast, and returned into Fremantle.

The Australian Antarctic Division’s Chief Scientist, Dr Nick Gales, said the findings of the oceanographic study are profoundly important.

“Not only will this research improve our understanding of ocean currents, but will also feed into our knowledge of how the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic continent drives the world’s climate processes,” Dr Gales said.

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