Abstract Winds around the Antarctic continental margin are known to exert a strong control on the local ocean stratification and circulation. However, past work has largely focused on the ocean response to changing winds in limited regional sectors and the circumpolar dynamical response to polar wind change remains uncertain. In this work, we use a high-resolution global ocean–sea ice model to investigate how dense shelf water formation and the temperature of continental shelf waters respond to changes in the zonal and meridional components of the polar surface winds. Increasing the zonal easterly wind component drives an enhanced southward Ekman transport in the surface layer, raising sea level over the continental shelf and deepening coastal isopycnals. The downward isopycnal movement cools the continental shelf, as colder surface waters replace warmer waters below. However, in this model the zonal easterly winds do not impact the strength of the abyssal overturning circulation, in contrast to past idealized model studies. Instead, increasing the meridional wind speed strengthens the abyssal overturning circulation via a sea ice advection mechanism. Enhanced offshore meridional wind speed increases the northward export of sea ice, resulting in decreased sea ice thickness over the continental shelf. The reduction in sea ice coverage leads to increased air–sea heat loss, sea ice formation, brine rejection, dense shelf water formation, and abyssal overturning circulation. Increasing the meridional winds causes warming at depth over most of the continental shelf, due to a heat advection feedback associated with the enhanced overturning circulation.

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