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Submesoscale Fronts in the Antarctic Marginal Ice Zone and Their Response to Wind Forcing

Swart, Sebastiaan and du Plessis, Marcel D. and Thompson, Andrew F. and Biddle, Louise C. and Giddy, Isabelle and Linders, Torsten and Mohrmann, Martin and Nicholson, Sarah‐Anne (2020) Submesoscale Fronts in the Antarctic Marginal Ice Zone and Their Response to Wind Forcing. Geophysical Research Letters, 47 (6). Art. No. e2019GL086649. ISSN 0094-8276. doi:10.1029/2019gl086649.

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Submesoscale flows in the ocean are energetic motions, O(1–10 km), that influence stratification and the distributions of properties, such as heat and carbon. They are believed to play an important role in sea‐ice‐impacted oceans by modulating air‐sea‐ice fluxes and sea‐ice extent. The intensity of these flows and their response to wind forcing are unobserved in the sea‐ice regions of the Southern Ocean. We present the first submesoscale‐resolving observations in the Antarctic marginal ice zone (MIZ) collected by surface and underwater autonomous vehicles, for >3 months in austral summer. We observe salinity‐dominated lateral density fronts occurring at sub‐kilometer scales. Surface winds are shown to modify the magnitude of the mixed‐layer density fronts, revealing strongly coupled atmosphere‐ocean processes. We posture that these wind‐front interactions occur as a continuous interplay between front slumping and vertical mixing, which leads to the dispersion of submesoscale fronts. Such processes are expected to be ubiquitous in the Southern Ocean MIZ.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Swart, Sebastiaan0000-0002-2251-8826
du Plessis, Marcel D.0000-0003-2759-2467
Thompson, Andrew F.0000-0003-0322-4811
Biddle, Louise C.0000-0002-4785-1959
Linders, Torsten0000-0002-5962-7532
Nicholson, Sarah‐Anne0000-0002-1226-1828
Additional Information:© 2020 The Authors. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution‐NonCommercial‐NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non‐commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made. Received 13 DEC 2019; Accepted 2 MAR 2020; Accepted article online 4 MAR 2020. This work was supported by the following grants: Wallenberg Academy Fellowship (WAF 2015.0186), Swedish Research Council (VR 2019‐04400), STINT‐NRF Mobility Grant and NRF‐SANAP (SNA170522231782), and AFT was supported by the Terrestrial Hazard Observations and Reporting (THOR) and ONR (N00014‐19‐1‐2421). We thank Sea Technology Services (STS), SANAP, the captain and crew of the S.A. Agulhas II for their field‐work/technical assistance. We thank David Peddie of Offshore Sensing AS for assistance with the Sailbuoy. S.S. is grateful to Geoff Shilling and Craig Lee (APL, University of Washington) for hosting the gliders on IOP and the technical advice provided. ERA5 data are generated using Copernicus Climate Change Service Information, available online (‐datasets/reanalysis‐datasets/era5). Data are available online ( via anonymous login).
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Knut and Alice Wallenberg FoundationWAF 2015.0186
Swedish Research CouncilVR 2019‐04400
Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher EducationUNSPECIFIED
South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP)SNA170522231782
Caltech Terrestrial Hazards Observations and Reporting center (THOR)UNSPECIFIED
Office of Naval Research (ONR)N00014-19-1-2421
Subject Keywords:submesoscales; mixed‐layer; sea‐ice; Southern Ocean; air‐sea fluxes; gliders
Issue or Number:6
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20200408-091120219
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Swart, S., du Plessis, M. D., Thompson, A. F., Biddle, L. C., Giddy, I., Linders, T., et al. (2020). Submesoscale fronts in the Antarctic marginal ice zone and their response to wind forcing. Geophysical Research Letters, 47, e2019GL086649.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:102397
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:08 Apr 2020 16:24
Last Modified:16 Nov 2021 18:11

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