The physical elements of the circulation of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) are reviewed. A picture of the circulation is sketched by means of recent observations from the WOCE decade. We present and discuss the role of forcing functions (wind stress, surface buoyancy flux) in the dynamical balance of the flow and in the meridional circulation and study their relation to the ACC transport. The physics of form stress at tilted isopycnals and at the ocean bottom are elucidated as central mechanisms in the momentum balance. We explain the failure of the Sverdrup balance in the ACC circulation and highlight the role of geostrophic contours in the balance of vorticity. Emphasis is on the interrelation of the zonal momentum balance and the meridional circulation, the importance of diapycnal mixing and eddy processes. Finally, new model concepts are described: a model of the ACC transport dependence on wind stress and buoyancy flux, based on linear wave theory; and a model of the meridional overturning and the mean density structure of the Southern Ocean, based on zonally averaged dynamics and thermodynamics with eddy parametrization.
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