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Response of a Global Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere–Sea Ice Climate Model to an Imposed North Atlantic High-Latitude Freshening

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  • 1 CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research, Aspendale, Victoria, Australia
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Abstract

The response of a coupled oceanic–atmospheric–sea ice climate model to an imposed North Atlantic high-latitude freshening is examined. The imposed freshening lasts for 5 yr with a total salt deficit equivalent to about eight times the observed Great Salinity Anomaly during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The thermohaline circulation associated with North Atlantic Deep Water Formation (NADWF) initially weakens, but it recovers within 20 yr of the imposed freshening being removed. The effect of the weakened NADWF is gradually transmitted from high latitudes to the entire Atlantic Ocean. The response at the equator lags that at 62°N by about 10 yr. In the midlatitude (from 30° to 58°N) region, the lag causes a warming during the initial weakening and a cooling during the recovery. Changes in the thermohaline circulation significantly modify the large-scale North Atlantic circulation. In particular, the barotropic Gulf Stream weakens by about 18%.

An interesting feature is the dipole structure of the initial response in sea surface temperature, with cooling in the sinking region and warming south of it. This dipole structure plays an important role for the recovery of the NADWF once the imposed freshening is removed. It increases the surface density in the sinking region and increases the north–south pressure gradient. Thus, the conditions set up during the initial weakening contribute to the recovery process.

Modifications of the thermal structure of the ocean surface lead to changes in the atmospheric circulation, in particular, a weakening of the westerlies over the midlatitude North Atlantic and a southward shift over Western Europe. The North Atlantic oscillation (NAO) index under the imposed freshening is negative, consistent with findings from observational studies. The associated climate changes are similar to those observed with negative NAO values.

Effects of various oceanic and atmospheric feedbacks are discussed. The results are also compared with those from ocean-only models, where the atmosphere–ocean interactions and some of the oceanic feedbacks are excluded.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Wenju Cai, Division of Atmospheric Research, CSIRO, Private Bag 1, Mordialloc, Victoria 3195, Australia.

Email: wjc@dar.csiro.au

Abstract

The response of a coupled oceanic–atmospheric–sea ice climate model to an imposed North Atlantic high-latitude freshening is examined. The imposed freshening lasts for 5 yr with a total salt deficit equivalent to about eight times the observed Great Salinity Anomaly during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The thermohaline circulation associated with North Atlantic Deep Water Formation (NADWF) initially weakens, but it recovers within 20 yr of the imposed freshening being removed. The effect of the weakened NADWF is gradually transmitted from high latitudes to the entire Atlantic Ocean. The response at the equator lags that at 62°N by about 10 yr. In the midlatitude (from 30° to 58°N) region, the lag causes a warming during the initial weakening and a cooling during the recovery. Changes in the thermohaline circulation significantly modify the large-scale North Atlantic circulation. In particular, the barotropic Gulf Stream weakens by about 18%.

An interesting feature is the dipole structure of the initial response in sea surface temperature, with cooling in the sinking region and warming south of it. This dipole structure plays an important role for the recovery of the NADWF once the imposed freshening is removed. It increases the surface density in the sinking region and increases the north–south pressure gradient. Thus, the conditions set up during the initial weakening contribute to the recovery process.

Modifications of the thermal structure of the ocean surface lead to changes in the atmospheric circulation, in particular, a weakening of the westerlies over the midlatitude North Atlantic and a southward shift over Western Europe. The North Atlantic oscillation (NAO) index under the imposed freshening is negative, consistent with findings from observational studies. The associated climate changes are similar to those observed with negative NAO values.

Effects of various oceanic and atmospheric feedbacks are discussed. The results are also compared with those from ocean-only models, where the atmosphere–ocean interactions and some of the oceanic feedbacks are excluded.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Wenju Cai, Division of Atmospheric Research, CSIRO, Private Bag 1, Mordialloc, Victoria 3195, Australia.

Email: wjc@dar.csiro.au

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