For more than a century it has been known that the abyssal basins of the world ocean are primarily occupied by relatively cold and fresh waters that originate in the Southern Ocean. Their distinguishing characteristics are acquired by exposure of surface and shelf waters to 'ventilation' by the polar atmosphere and to the melting and freezing of ice over and near the Antarctic continental shelf. Subsequent mixing with deep water over the continental slope results in 'Bottom Water' that forms the southern sinking limb of the global 'Thermohaline Circulation.' Over recent decades, oceanographers have wrestled with a variety of bottom water and thermohaline circulation problems, ranging from basic definitions to forcing and formation sites, source components and properties, generation processes and rates, mixing and sinking, pathways and transports. A brief review of these efforts indicates both advances and anomalies in our understanding of Antarctic Bottom Water production and circulation. Examples from ongoing work illustrate increasing interest in the temporal variability of bottom water in relation to climate change.
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