On the meridional extent and fronts of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current Academic Article uri icon


  • Large-scale features of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) are described using all historical hydrographic data available from the Southern Ocean. The geopotential anomaly of the sea surface relative to 1000 db reveals the highly-sheared eastward flow of the ACC and the strong steering of the current by the ridge system around Antarctica. The near-surface property distributions differentiate the ACC waters from the warmer and saltier waters of the subtropical regimes. The Subtropical Front (STF), interrupted only by South America, marks the northern most extent of subantarctic waters. Distributions of properties on isopycnal surfaces show an abrupt end to the characteristic signal of the Upper Circumpolar Deep Water (UCDW), as this water mass shoals southward and is entrained into the surface mixed layer. This sharp water mass boundary nearly coincides with the southernmost circumpolar streamline passing through Drake Passage. To its south are the weakly-sheared circulations of the subpolar regime. Inspection of many hydrographic crossings of this transition reveals that the poleward edge of the UCD W signal is a reasonable definition of the southern boundary of the ACC. At Drake Passage, three deep-reaching fronts account for most of the ACC transport. Well-established indicators of the Subantarctic Front and Polar Front are traced unbroken around Antarctica. The third deep-reaching front observed to the south of the Polar Front at Drake Passage also continues with similar characteristics as a circumpolar feature. It is called here the southern ACC front. Stations from multiple synoptic transects of these circumpolar fronts are used to describe the average property structure within each ACC zone. Between the STF and the southern boundary of the ACC, the shear transport of the circumpolar current above 3000 m is at all longitudes about 100 Sv (1 Sv = 106 m3 s-) eastward. © 1995.

altmetric score

  • 14.08

author list (cited authors)

  • Orsi, A. H., Whitworth, T., & Nowlin, W. D.

citation count

  • 1730

publication date

  • May 1995