The Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling project (SOCCOM) is an NSF-sponsored program focused on unlocking the mysteries of the Southern Ocean and determining its influence on climate. Housed at Princeton University and administered by the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Program, SOCCOM draws on the strengths of teams of investigators across the U.S. as well as participating in international observational and simulation efforts.

SOCCOM’s mission is to drive a transformative shift in the scientific and public understanding of the role of the vast Southern Ocean in climate change and biogeochemistry. The goals of the program are to:

  • Extend sparse Southern Ocean biogeochemical observations by deploying a robotic observing system composed of ~200 autonomous floats that will provide nearly continuous coverage in time and horizontal space over the entire Southern Ocean, as well as vertical coverage deep into the water column.
  • Using this observational data, analyze and improve a new generation of high resolution earth system models to both increase our understanding of the Southern Ocean’s current workings and make better projections of the future trajectory of the Earth’s climate and biogeochemistry.
  • Educate a new generation of ocean scientists trained in both ocean observation and simulation, and develop a sophisticated outreach effort to disseminate results to the broadest possible community.

Curtis Deutsch is the PI for the project at Princeton University, and Ken Johnson of MBARI serves as the Acting Director. Professor Jorge Sarmiento of Princeton was the founding Director of SOCCOM, which consists of three teams:

  • An observational team headed by Professor Lynne Talley of Scripps Institution of Oceanography (U.C. San Diego) in collaboration with Dr. Ken Johnson of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Professor Stephen Riser of the University of Washington, and Dr. Oscar Schofied of Rutgers University;
  • A modeling team headed by Professor Joellen Russell at the University of Arizona in collaboration with Sarmiento, Deutsch, and colleagues at Princeton as well as NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory; and
  • A broader impacts team headed by Dr. Heidi Cullen of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

In total, 21 senior researchers at 11 institutions participate in the project. Read more about the details on the contributions of each institution.

The SOCCOM project is supported by NSF under the NSF Award PLR-1425989 and OPP-1936222, supplemented by NASA, and by the International Argo Program and the NOAA programs that contribute to it. Logistical support for this project in Antarctica is provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation through the U.S. Antarctic Program.

Why study the Southern Ocean?

Because of the harsh conditions in the Southern Ocean, traditional measurements of ocean properties made from ships are few and far between. Modeling studies, however, suggest that this region plays important roles in the planet’s carbon and climate cycles.

First, studies show that although the Southern Ocean comprises only about 30% of the world’s ocean area, it accounts for half the ocean’s uptake of anthropogenic carbon from the atmosphere and the majority of its uptake of heat. Second, models indicate that upwelling in the Southern Ocean delivers nutrients to lower latitude surface waters that are critical to ocean ecosystems around the world. Third, the impacts of ocean acidification from rising CO2 are projected to be most severe in the Southern Ocean, with ecosystem tipping points being reached in a few decades.

The cutting-edge observations and modeling carried out under the SOCCOM project will help researchers better understand the inner workings of the Southern Ocean and how it impacts Earth’s climate and biosphere. SOCCOM’s modeling studies will also help us assess the impact of changes in the Southern Ocean on the global climate.

What makes this program unique?

The international Argo program has deployed thousands of autonomous floats to measure temperature and salinity in the world’s oceans. The SOCCOM project is augmenting conventional Argo floats with biogeochemical sensors to measure carbon (pH), nutrients (nitrate), and oxygen (see MBARI animation).

SOCCOM is the world’s first large-scale biogeochemical Argo deployment. The project will increase the number of biogeochemical measurements made monthly in the Southern Ocean by 10-30 times (more in the Southern Hemisphere winter, when observations are scarcest), and the data are made freely available to the public. Over 100 SOCCOM floats are operating the Southern Ocean and have made millions of biogeochemical measurements, many in regions and at times of year never previously sampled.

SOCCOM is also unusual in combining an innovative observational program with a strong modeling program, and in integrating professional outreach partners into the program.