Southern Ocean’s Role in Climate Regulation, Ocean Health Goal of $21 Million Federal Grant

MIAMI – Researchers for the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science are part of a $21 million collaborative research program led by Princeton University to create a biogeochemical and physical portrait of the Southern Ocean using hundreds of robotic floats deployed around Antarctica and an expanded computational capacity. The Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling program, or SOCCOM, is a six-year initiative headquartered at Princeton and funded by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs, with additional support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA.

UM Rosenstiel School Associate Professor of Ocean Sciences Igor Kamenkovich, is a co-investigator who will lead the design and analysis of SOCCOM’s Observation System Simulation Experiments (OSSE), and will be involved into the studies of the importance of eddies in heat-carbon distributions, model analysis and metric development.

"SOCCOM will enable top scientists from institutions around the country to work together on Southern Ocean research in ways that would not otherwise be possible," said SOCCOM director Jorge Sarmiento, Princeton's George J. Magee Professor of Geoscience and Geological Engineering and director of the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

“This project represents a true synthesis of observational and modeling studies,” said Kamenkovic. “In addition to developing observation-based metrics to validate and improve model simulations, SOCCOM will also help to optimize the instrument deployment strategy and to assist in the interpretation and analysis of observational data."

The Southern Ocean that encircles Antarctica lends a considerable hand in keeping Earth's temperature hospitable by soaking up half of the human-made carbon in the atmosphere and a majority of planet's excess heat. Yet, the inner workings — and global importance — of this ocean that accounts for 30 percent of the world's ocean area remains relatively unknown to scientists, as observations remain hindered by dangerous seas.

Central to the program are roughly 200 floats outfitted with biogeochemical sensors that will provide almost continuous year-round information related to the ocean's carbon, nutrient (nitrate, in particular) and oxygen content, both at and deep beneath the surface. The floats are augmented biogeochemical versions of the nearly 4,000 Argo floats deployed worldwide to measure ocean salinity and temperature. SOCCOM marks the first large-scale deployment of these biogeochemical floats.

"The scarcity of observations in the Southern Ocean and inadequacy of earlier models, combined with its importance to the Earth's carbon and climate systems, means there is tremendous potential for groundbreaking research in this region," Sarmiento said.

The floats will increase the monthly data currently coming out of the Southern Ocean by 10 to 30 times, Sarmiento said. That data will be used to improve recently developed high-resolution earthsystem models, which will allow for a better understanding of the Southern Ocean and for better projections of Earth’s climate and biogeochemical trajectory. In keeping with SOCCOM's knowledge sharing, or "broader impacts," component, all the information collected will be freely available to the public, researchers and industry.

SOCCOM will provide direct observations to further understand the importance of the Southern Ocean as suggested by models and ocean studies. Aside from carbon and heat uptake, models have indicated that the Southern Ocean delivers nutrients to lower-latitude surface waters that are critical to ocean ecosystems around the world. In addition, the impacts of ocean acidification as levels of carbon dioxide in atmosphere increase are projected to be most severe in the Southern Ocean.

The floats will be constructed at the University of Washington with sensors from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute; NOAA’s Climate Program Office will provide half of the basic Argo floats. Float deployment, observation analysis and data assimilation will be led by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego. Climate Central, a non-profit science and journalism organization based in Princeton, will oversee the broader-impacts component. Researchers from Oregon State University and NOAA will develop the floats’ carbon algorithms. In addition, NASA will support a complementary project involving researchers at the University of Maine and Rutgers University that will equip the floats with bio-optical sensors intended to gather data about biological processesin the water column. For more information, visit: SOCCOM:

Southern OCean's Role in Climate Regulation

About the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School
The University of Miami is the largest private research institution in the southeastern United States. The University’s mission is to provide quality education, attract and retain outstanding students, support the faculty and their research, and build an endowment for University initiatives. Founded in the 1940’s, the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science has grown into one of the world’s premier marine and atmospheric research institutions. Offering dynamic interdisciplinary academics, the Rosenstiel School is dedicated to helping communities to better understand the planet, participating in the establishment of environmental policies, and aiding in the improvement of society and quality of life. For more information, please visit

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