A Horizontal Resolution and Parameter Sensitivity Study of Heat Transport in an Idealized Coupled Climate Model

Augustus F. Fanning School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

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Andrew J. Weaver School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

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Abstract

An idealized coupled ocean–atmosphere model is utilized to study the influence of horizontal resolution and parameterized eddy processes on the poleward heat transport in the climate system. A series of experiments ranging from 4° to 0.25° resolution, with appropriate horizontal viscosities and diffusivities in each case, are performed. The coupled atmosphere–ocean model results contradict earlier studies, which showed that the heat transport associated with time-varying circulations counteracted increases in the time mean so that the total remained unchanged as resolution was increased. Even though the total oceanic heat transport has not converged, the net planetary heat transport has essentially converged owing to the strong constraint of energy balance at the top of the atmosphere. Consequently, the atmospheric heat transport is reduced to offset the increasing oceanic heat transport.

To interpret these results, the oceanic heat transport is decomposed into its baroclinic overturning (related to the meridional overturning and Ekman transports), barotropic gyre (that in the horizontal plane), and baroclinic gyre (associated with the jet core within the western boundary current) components. The increase in heat transport occurs in the steady currents. In particular, the baroclinic gyre transport increases by a factor of 5 from the coarsest- to the finest-resolution case, equaling the baroclinic overturning transport at mid- to high latitudes.

To further assess the results, a parallel series of experiments under restoring conditions are performed to elucidate the differences between heat transport in coupled versus uncoupled models and models driven by temperature and salinity or equivalent buoyancy. Although heat transport is more strongly constrained in the restoring experiments, results are similar to those in the coupled model. Again, the total heat transport is increased due to an increasing baroclinic gyre component.

These results point to the importance of higher resolution in the oceanic component of current coupled climate models. These results also stress the need to adequately represent the heat transport associated with the “warm core” region of the Gulf Stream (the baroclinic gyre transport) in order to adequately represent oceanic poleward heat transport.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Augustus F. Fanning, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, P.O. Box 1700, Victoria, BC V8W 2Y2, Canada.

Email: afanning@mer.seos.uvic.ca

Abstract

An idealized coupled ocean–atmosphere model is utilized to study the influence of horizontal resolution and parameterized eddy processes on the poleward heat transport in the climate system. A series of experiments ranging from 4° to 0.25° resolution, with appropriate horizontal viscosities and diffusivities in each case, are performed. The coupled atmosphere–ocean model results contradict earlier studies, which showed that the heat transport associated with time-varying circulations counteracted increases in the time mean so that the total remained unchanged as resolution was increased. Even though the total oceanic heat transport has not converged, the net planetary heat transport has essentially converged owing to the strong constraint of energy balance at the top of the atmosphere. Consequently, the atmospheric heat transport is reduced to offset the increasing oceanic heat transport.

To interpret these results, the oceanic heat transport is decomposed into its baroclinic overturning (related to the meridional overturning and Ekman transports), barotropic gyre (that in the horizontal plane), and baroclinic gyre (associated with the jet core within the western boundary current) components. The increase in heat transport occurs in the steady currents. In particular, the baroclinic gyre transport increases by a factor of 5 from the coarsest- to the finest-resolution case, equaling the baroclinic overturning transport at mid- to high latitudes.

To further assess the results, a parallel series of experiments under restoring conditions are performed to elucidate the differences between heat transport in coupled versus uncoupled models and models driven by temperature and salinity or equivalent buoyancy. Although heat transport is more strongly constrained in the restoring experiments, results are similar to those in the coupled model. Again, the total heat transport is increased due to an increasing baroclinic gyre component.

These results point to the importance of higher resolution in the oceanic component of current coupled climate models. These results also stress the need to adequately represent the heat transport associated with the “warm core” region of the Gulf Stream (the baroclinic gyre transport) in order to adequately represent oceanic poleward heat transport.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Augustus F. Fanning, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, P.O. Box 1700, Victoria, BC V8W 2Y2, Canada.

Email: afanning@mer.seos.uvic.ca

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