Surface ocean physical dynamics of the Southern Ocean

Fine scale dynamics to large- scale climate sensitivities

PI: S. Swart

The Southern Ocean is a region rich in dynamics in terms of fine scale and high frequency variability of the surface ocean as well as the enhanced forcing of the atmosphere on the upper ocean. There is increasing evidence that seasonal to subseasonal temporal scales, meso- and submesoscale physical processes play an important role in understanding the sensitivity of ocean primary productivity to climate change in the Southern Ocean. However, surface ocean processes are poorly quantified due to lack of observations made at the right time and space scales. These scale gaps have been recognized by the global science community as being a key link towards improving our understanding of the sensitivity of the Southern Ocean to climate change. This project aims, for the first time, to thoroughly and systematically observe and investigate the role and scales of which these processes have in modulating the full seasonal cycle of upper ocean physics in the Southern Ocean.


Funding: Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (Wallenberg Academy Fellowship)

Gliders in the Agulhas Current (GINA)

PI: M. Krug; co-PI: S. Swart & J. Hermes

This project aims to better understand the response of the coastal and shelf regions to changes in the Agulhas Current off the SE coast of South Africa.

In this project, interactions between the Agulhas Current and coastal and shelf regions are investigated using data collected from autonomous Seagliders and Wave Gliders (autonomous robotic platforms) in the oceanic shelf regions along the extent of the Agulhas Current. The Seagliders measure a wide range of seawater variables (temperature, salinity, pressure, dissolved oxygen, light, bio-optics) that are then communicated back via satellite in real-time to land or ship-based users for analysis.

Research objectives include:

  • Improve our fundamental understanding of the role of western boundary current on the across-shelf exchange between the coastal and deep ocean.
  • Improve our understanding of sub-mesoscale dynamics in western boundary current regimes
  • Better understand and exploit synergies between satellite and glider-based observations
  • Test the feasibility of operating autonomous platforms in the highly turbulent and energetic Agulhas Current region


Funding: GINA is a multi-institutional funded project, namely by CSIR, SAEON, SAIAB, University of Gothenburg (through the K & A Wallenberg Foundation).

The role of storms in shaping upper ocean physics and primary production in the Southern Ocean

PI: S. Nicholson; co-PI: S. Swart, P. Monteiro

The Southern Ocean is one of the stormiest places on earth; here strong mid­latitude storms frequently traverse large distances of this ocean. Beneath these passing storms, this ocean is characterized high eddy kinetic energy (eddies and fronts occupying the meso to sub­mesoscale). The passage of intense storms over this underlying meso to sub­mesoscale eddy variability may strongly impact the upper­ ocean environment where phytoplankton live, yet exactly how remains unclear. This project plans for the first time to address this important climate knowledge gap by showing how these intense storms impact upper ocean physics and biogeochemistry with unique observations and modeling. Novel twinned autonomous ocean robots (Wave Glider coupled to a Slocum with a MicroRider package) experiments have been designed to directly observe scale sensitivities and links between storm driven wind forcing, upper­ocean mixing and phytoplankton growth. Several numerical models (idealised and regional) have been setup to (a) understand further the associated storm­driven mechanisms and (b) explore how changes in storm characteristics could impact annual primary production in the SO. Given that the SO is arguably the main source of medium­term uncertainty in global CO2 fluxes, understanding such climate sensitivities is of critical importance.

More info here.



Funding: National Research Foundation – South African National Antarctic Programme

Reducing the climate impact of marine research using carbon neautral autonomous platforms

PI: S. Swart; co-PI: A. Wåhlin, C. Húezé

Marine and oceanographic research requires the use of large research ships for access to the ocean, especially in remote areas such as the high latitudes. These vessels are normally large (±100m) and consume vast amounts of fuel (crude oil & diesel) during their usually long voyages that can extend between days or months. Ocean robotics, on the other hand, are small, relatively cheap and yet sophisticated science platforms that enable scientists to collect observations of unprecedented resolution in support of improved climate and ecosystem understanding. These robots, or ocean gliders, are intelligent autonomous platforms that are deployed in the ocean to conduct surveys, monitoring or scientific experiments.

Their low power requirements and advanced design means they can remain at sea for multiple months at a time, collecting and transmitting data in real time via satellite communication (Iridium) to researchers anywhere in the world. One of their key advantages is that they can collect high resolution, continuous data at a fraction of the cost and effort compared to conventional means, such as ships. These robotic platforms are carbon neutral instruments, while at the same they collect information about the carbon uptake by the ocean – a crucial process that helps us understand how the ocean regulates global climate.

AWGII System Overview

Funding: Climate Fund, University of Gothenburg

Previous projects


Training in Gliders (TING)

PI: S. Swart; co-PI: K. Assman

Funding: Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences (KVA)


Surface ocean physical dynamics of the Southern Ocean

PI: S. Swart; co-PI: P. Monteiro; N. Chang

Funding: National Research Foundation – South African National Antarctic Programme


Southern Ocean observational infrastructure for oceanography and climate research

PI: S. Swart & P. Monteiro

Funding: Department of Science & Technology, South Africa


South Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (SAMOC)

PI: I. J. Ansorge; co-PI: S. Swart

Funding: National Research Foundation – South African National Antarctic Programme


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