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About Topic 2


Topic 2 will advance the understanding of past, present and future changes of the climate system from an ocean and cryosphere perspective by closing critical knowledge gaps related to warming climates, variability and extremes as well as sea level change for the benefit of society.

Our focus:

The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane, which are currently by far the highest for at least 800,000 years as a result of anthropogenic influence, is strongly affecting the ocean and cryosphere. We focus on natural and anthropogenically-induced variability as well as on feedbacks in the coupled Earth system via observations, data analyses and comprehensive modeling. Essential are furthermore reconstructions of the past which bring our current changes into the long-term perspective.

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Recent Highlights

Evolution of the most powerful ocean current on Earth

Ocean sediment cores reveal climate-related fluctuations in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current in past epochs

The Antarctic Circumpolar Current plays an important part in global overturning circulation, the exchange of heat and CO2 between the ocean and atmosphere, and the stability of Antarctica’s ice sheets. An international research team led by the Alfred Wegener Institute and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have now used sediments taken from the South Pacific to reconstruct the flow speed in the last 5.3 million years. Their data show that during glacial periods, the current slowed; during interglacials, it accelerated. Consequently, if the current global warming intensifies in the future, it could mean that the Southern Ocean stores less CO2 and that more heat reaches Antarctica.


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Subtopics in detail

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