Today: Rising ocean temperatures

Nov 21, 2022 

By Philip Pearson

‘How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean.’ This quote, beloved of oceanographers and others who care about the sea, comes from science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. For Mike Meredith of the British Antarctic Survey, the notion ‘encapsulates perfectly the pre-eminence of the ocean in everything to do with our planet – sustaining life, controlling our climate, feeding our populations.’ 

He describes the currents of the Southern Ocean as driving the global circulation of ocean waters. They flow round Antarctica, connecting with the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian ocean basins. ‘They move huge quantities of heat and fresh water, along with carbon and other climatically and ecologically important substances between them.’

As Meredith shows, the idea of a single inter-connected ocean with many features becomes clear visually when the world is viewed through the ‘Spilhaus’ projection:



A cross-section of the Southern Ocean shows how the reprocessing of deep water to form intermediate and bottom waters results in heat and carbon (including that produced by human activity) is removed from the atmosphere. The carbon is in dissolved form in sinking water and the conversion of carbon into organic compounds. The ocean’s ‘high primary productivity’ largely supported by nutrients being brought to the surface around Antarctica.

 Southern Ocean processing deep water

But the Southern Ocean is a ‘data desert’ he argues. Setting up and maintaining long-term, systematic monitoring of the Southern Ocean is ‘vital to our understanding of the global impacts of climate change in Antarctic waters.’

Mike Meredith is an oceanographer and Science Leader at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge, UK. He is head of the Polar Oceans team at BAS, which has research foci on determining the role of the polar oceans on global climate, the ice sheets, and the interdisciplinary ocean system. 


The global importance of the Southern Ocean, Micheal Meredith, Ocean Challenge, 2019: