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Destabilization of the Thermohaline Circulation by Atmospheric Transports: An Analytic Solution

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  • 1 Program in Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Abstract

The four-box coupled atmosphere–ocean model of Marotzke is solved analytically, by introducing the approximation that the effect of oceanic heat advection on ocean temperatures is small (but not negligible) compared to the effect of surface heat fluxes. The solutions are written in a form that displays how the stability of the thermohaline circulation depends on the relationship between atmospheric meridional transports of heat and moisture and the meridional temperature gradient. In the model, these relationships are assumed to be power laws with different exponents allowed for the dependence of the transports of heat and moisture on the gradient. The approximate analytic solutions are in good agreement with Marotzke’s exact numerical solutions, but show more generally how the destabilization of the thermohaline circulation depends on the sensitivity of the atmospheric transports to the meridional temperature gradient. The solutions are also used to calculate how the stability of the thermohaline circulation is changed if model errors are “corrected” by using conventional flux adjustments. Errors like those common in GCMs destabilize the model’s thermohaline circulation, even if conventional flux adjustments are used. However, the resulting errors in the magnitude of the critical perturbations necessary to destabilize the thermohaline circulation can be corrected by modifying transport efficiencies instead.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Peter H. Stone, Center for Meteorology and Physical Oceanography, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307.

Email: phstone@mit.edu

Abstract

The four-box coupled atmosphere–ocean model of Marotzke is solved analytically, by introducing the approximation that the effect of oceanic heat advection on ocean temperatures is small (but not negligible) compared to the effect of surface heat fluxes. The solutions are written in a form that displays how the stability of the thermohaline circulation depends on the relationship between atmospheric meridional transports of heat and moisture and the meridional temperature gradient. In the model, these relationships are assumed to be power laws with different exponents allowed for the dependence of the transports of heat and moisture on the gradient. The approximate analytic solutions are in good agreement with Marotzke’s exact numerical solutions, but show more generally how the destabilization of the thermohaline circulation depends on the sensitivity of the atmospheric transports to the meridional temperature gradient. The solutions are also used to calculate how the stability of the thermohaline circulation is changed if model errors are “corrected” by using conventional flux adjustments. Errors like those common in GCMs destabilize the model’s thermohaline circulation, even if conventional flux adjustments are used. However, the resulting errors in the magnitude of the critical perturbations necessary to destabilize the thermohaline circulation can be corrected by modifying transport efficiencies instead.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Peter H. Stone, Center for Meteorology and Physical Oceanography, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307.

Email: phstone@mit.edu

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