skip to main content

Title: Mechanisms of Low-Frequency Variability in North Atlantic Ocean Heat Transport and AMOC
Abstract Ocean heat transport (OHT) plays a key role in climate and its variability. Here, we identify modes of low-frequency North Atlantic OHT variability by applying a low-frequency component analysis (LFCA) to output from three global climate models. The first low-frequency component (LFC), computed using this method, is an index of OHT variability that maximizes the ratio of low-frequency variance (occurring at decadal and longer timescales) to total variance. Lead-lag regressions of atmospheric and ocean variables onto the LFC timeseries illuminate the dominant mechanisms controlling low-frequency OHT variability. Anomalous northwesterly winds from eastern North America over the North Atlantic act to increase upper ocean density in the Labrador Sea region, enhancing deep convection, which later increases OHT via changes in the strength of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). The strengthened AMOC carries warm, salty water into the subpolar gyre, reducing deep convection and weakening AMOC and OHT. This mechanism, where changes in AMOC and OHT are driven primarily by changes in Labrador Sea deep convection, holds not only in models where the climatological (i.e., time-mean) deep convection is concentrated in the Labrador Sea, but also in models where the climatological deep convection is concentrated in the Greenland-Iceland-Norwegian (GIN) Seas more » or the Irminger and Iceland Basins. These results suggest that despite recent observational evidence suggesting that the Labrador Sea plays a minor role in driving the climatological AMOC, the Labrador Sea may still play an important role in driving low-frequency variability in AMOC and OHT. « less
; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1850900 1929775
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Journal of Climate
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
1 to 68
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Wintertime convection in the North Atlantic Ocean is a key component of the global climate as it produces dense waters at high latitudes that flow equatorward as part of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). Recent work has highlighted the dominant role of the Irminger and Iceland basins in the production of North Atlantic Deep Water. Dense water formation in these basins is mainly explained by buoyancy forcing that transforms surface waters to the deep waters of the AMOC lower limb. Air-sea fluxes and the ocean surface density field are both key determinants of the buoyancy-driven transformation. We analyze these contributions to the transformation in order to better understand the connection between atmospheric forcing and the densification of surface water. More precisely, we study the impact of air-sea fluxes and the ocean surface density field on the transformation of subpolar mode water (SPMW) in the Iceland Basin, a water mass that “pre-conditions” dense water formation downstream. Analyses using 40 years of observations (1980–2019) reveal that the variance in SPMW transformation is mainly influenced by the variance in density at the ocean surface. This surface density is set by a combination of advection, wind-driven upwelling and surface fluxes. Our study showsmore »that the latter explains ∼ 30 % of the variance in outcrop area as expressed by the surface area between the outcropped SPMW isopycnals. The key role of the surface density in SPMW transformation partly explains the unusually large SPMW transformation in winter 2014–2015 over the Iceland Basin.« less
  2. Abstract

    The sea surface temperature (SST) signature of Atlantic multidecadal variability (AMV) is a key driver of climate variability in surrounding regions. Low-frequency Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) variability is often invoked as a key driving mechanism of AMV-related SST anomalies. However, the origins of both AMV and multidecadal AMOC variability remain areas of active research and debate. Here, using coupled ensemble experiments designed to isolate the climate response to buoyancy forcing associated with the North Atlantic Oscillation in the Labrador Sea, we show that ocean dynamical changes are the essential drivers of AMV and related climate impacts. Atmospheric teleconnections also play an important role in rendering the full AMV pattern by transmitting the ocean-driven subpolar SST signal into the rest of the basin, including the tropical North Atlantic. As such, the atmosphere response to the tropical AMV in our experiments is limited to a relatively small area in the Atlantic sector in summertime, suggesting that it could be overestimated in widely adopted protocols for AMV pacemaker experiments.

  3. We explore the mechanisms by which Arctic sea ice decline affects the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) in a suite of numerical experiments perturbing the Arctic sea ice radiative budget within a fully coupled climate model. The imposed perturbations act to increase the amount of heat available to melt ice, leading to a rapid Arctic sea ice retreat within 5 years after the perturbations are activated. In response, the AMOC gradually weakens over the next ~100 years. The AMOC changes can be explained by the accumulation in the Arctic and subsequent downstream propagation to the North Atlantic of buoyancy anomalies controlled by temperature and salinity. Initially, during the first decade or so, the Arctic sea ice loss results in anomalous positive heat and salinity fluxes in the subpolar North Atlantic, inducing positive temperature and salinity anomalies over the regions of oceanic deep convection. At first, these anomalies largely compensate one another, leading to a minimal change in upper ocean density and deep convection in the North Atlantic. Over the following years, however, more anomalous warm water accumulates in the Arctic and spreads to the North Atlantic. At the same time, freshwater that accumulates from seasonal sea ice melting over mostmore »of the upper Arctic Ocean also spreads southward, reaching as far as south of Iceland. These warm and fresh anomalies reduce upper ocean density and suppress oceanic deep convection. The thermal and haline contributions to these buoyancy anomalies, and therefore to the AMOC slowdown during this period, are found to have similar magnitudes. We also find that the related changes in horizontal wind-driven circulation could potentially push freshwater away from the deep convection areas and hence strengthen the AMOC, but this effect is overwhelmed by mean advection.

    « less
  4. The Agulhas Current is the strongest western boundary current in the Southern Hemisphere, transporting some 70 Sv of warm and saline surface waters from the tropical Indian Ocean along the East African margin to the tip of Africa. Exchanges of heat and moisture with the atmosphere influence southern African climates, including individual weather systems such as extratropical cyclone formation in the region and rainfall patterns. Recent ocean models and paleoceanographic data further point at a potential role of the Agulhas Current in controlling the strength and mode of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) during the Late Pleistocene. Spillage of saline Agulhas water into the South Atlantic stimulates buoyancy anomalies that act as a control mechanism on the basin-wide AMOC, with implications for convective activity in the North Atlantic and Northern Hemisphere climate. International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 361 aims to extend this work to periods of major ocean and climate restructuring during the Pliocene/Pleistocene to assess the role that the Agulhas Current and ensuing (interocean) marine heat and salt transports have played in shaping the regional- and global-scale ocean and climate development. This expedition will core six sites on the southeast African margin and Indian–Atlantic ocean gateway. Themore »primary sites are located between 416 and 3040 m water depths. The specific scientific objectives are • To assess the sensitivity of the Agulhas Current to changing climates of the Pliocene/Pleistocene, in association with transient to long-term changes of high-latitude climates, tropical heat budgets, and the monsoon system; • To reconstruct the dynamics of the Indian–Atlantic gateway circulation during such climate changes, in association with changing wind fields and migrating ocean fronts; • To examine the connection between Agulhas leakage and ensuing buoyancy transfer and shifts of the AMOC during major ocean and climate reorganizations during at least the last 5 My; and • To address the impact of Agulhas variability on southern Africa terrestrial climates and, notably, rainfall patterns and river runoff. Additionally, Expedition 361 will complete an intensive interstitial fluids program at four of the sites aimed at constraining the temperature, salinity, and density structure of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) deep ocean, from the bottom of the ocean to the base of the main thermocline, to address the processes that could fill the LGM ocean and control its circulation. Expedition 361 will seek to recover ~5200 m of sediment in total. The coring strategy will include the triple advanced piston corer system along with the extended core barrel coring system where required to reach target depths. Given the significant transit time required during the expedition (15.5 days), the coring schedule is tight and will require detailed operational planning and flexibility from the scientific party. The final operations plan, including the number of sites to be cored and/or logged, is contingent upon the R/V JOIDES Resolution operations schedule, operational risks, and the outcome of requests for territorial permission to occupy particular sites. All relevant IODP sampling and data policies will be adhered to during the expedition. Beyond the interstitial fluids program, shipboard sampling will be restricted to acquiring ephemeral data and to limited low-resolution sampling of parameters that may be critically affected by short-term core storage. Most sampling will be deferred to a postcruise sampling party that will take place at the Gulf Coast Repository in College Station, Texas (USA). A substantial onshore X-ray fluorescence scanning plan is anticipated and will be further developed in consultation with scientific participants.« less
  5. The fundamental mechanisms that explain high subpolar North Atlantic (SPNA) decadal predictability within a particular modeling framework are described. The focus is on the Community Earth System Model (CESM), run in both a historical forced-ocean configuration as well as in a fully coupled configuration initialized from the former. The initialized prediction experiments comprise the CESM Decadal Prediction Large Ensemble (CESM-DPLE)—a 40-member set of retrospective hindcasts documented in Yeager et al. (Bull Am Meteorol Soc 99:1867–1886., 2018). Heat budget analysis confirms the driving role of advective heat convergence in skillful prediction of SPNA upper ocean heat content out to decadal lead times. The key ocean dynamics are topographically-coupled overturning/gyre fluctuations that are geographically centered over the mid-Atlantic ridge (MAR). Long-lasting predictive skill for ocean heat transport can be related to predictable barotropic gyre and sigma-coordinate AMOC circulations, but depth-coordinate AMOC is far less predictable except in the deepest layers. The foundation of ocean memory (and circulation predictive skill) in CESM-DPLE is Labrador Sea Water thickness, which propagates predictably through interior pathways towards the MAR where large anomalies accumulate and persist. Abyssal thickness anomalies drive predictable decadal changes in the gyre circulation, including changes in sea level gradient and near surfacemore »flow, that account for the high predictability of SPNA upper ocean heat content.« less