Sketch illustrating the difference between old and proposed frameworks.

A Southern Ocean supergyre as a unifying dynamical framework identified by physics-informed machine learning

The Southern Ocean closes the global overturning circulation and is key to the regulation of carbon, heat, biological production, and sea level. However, the dynamics of the general circulation and upwelling pathways remain poorly understood. This projects uses a physics-informed unsupervised machine learning framework using principled constraints.

We propose a unifying framework invoking a semi-circumpolar supergyre south of the Antarctic circumpolar current: a massive series of leaking sub-gyres spanning the Weddell and Ross seas that are connected and maintained via rough topography that acts as scaffolding. The supergyre framework challenges the conventional view of having separate circulation structures in the Weddell and Ross seas and suggests that idealized models and zonally-averaged frameworks may be of limited utility for climate applications. Machine learning was used to reveal areas of coherent driving forces within a vorticity-based analysis.

Predictions from the supergyre framework are supported by available observations and could aid observational and modelling efforts to study this climatologically key region undergoing rapid change.

Maike Sonnewald, Krissy Anne Reeve, and Redouane Lguensat

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