Response of the Atlantic Thermohaline Circulation to Increased Atmospheric CO2 in a Coupled Model

Aixue Hu National Center for Atmospheric Research,* Boulder, Colorado

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Gerald A. Meehl National Center for Atmospheric Research,* Boulder, Colorado

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Warren M. Washington National Center for Atmospheric Research,* Boulder, Colorado

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Aiguo Dai National Center for Atmospheric Research,* Boulder, Colorado

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Abstract

Changes in the thermohaline circulation (THC) due to increased CO2 are important in future climate regimes. Using a coupled climate model, the Parallel Climate Model (PCM), regional responses of the THC in the North Atlantic to increased CO2 and the underlying physical processes are studied here. The Atlantic THC shows a 20-yr cycle in the control run, qualitatively agreeing with other modeling results. Compared with the control run, the simulated maximum of the Atlantic THC weakens by about 5 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) or 14% in an ensemble of transient experiments with a 1% CO2 increase per year at the time of CO2 doubling. The weakening of the THC is accompanied by reduced poleward heat transport in the midlatitude North Atlantic. Analyses show that oceanic deep convective activity strengthens significantly in the Greenland–Iceland–Norway (GIN) Seas owing to a saltier (denser) upper ocean, but weakens in the Labrador Sea due to a fresher (lighter) upper ocean and in the south of the Denmark Strait region (SDSR) because of surface warming. The saltiness of the GIN Seas are mainly caused by an increased salty North Atlantic inflow, and reduced sea ice volume fluxes from the Arctic into this region. The warmer SDSR is induced by a reduced heat loss to the atmosphere, and a reduced sea ice flux into this region, resulting in less heat being used to melt ice. Thus, sea ice–related salinity effects appear to be more important in the GIN Seas, but sea ice–melt-related thermal effects seem to be more important in the SDSR region. On the other hand, the fresher Labrador Sea is mainly attributed to increased precipitation. These regional changes produce the overall weakening of the THC in the Labrador Sea and SDSR, and more vigorous ocean overturning in the GIN Seas. The northward heat transport south of 60°N is reduced with increased CO2, but increased north of 60°N due to the increased flow of North Atlantic water across this latitude.

Corresponding author address: Aixue Hu, National Center for Atmospheric Research, P. O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307. Email: ahu@ucar.edu

Abstract

Changes in the thermohaline circulation (THC) due to increased CO2 are important in future climate regimes. Using a coupled climate model, the Parallel Climate Model (PCM), regional responses of the THC in the North Atlantic to increased CO2 and the underlying physical processes are studied here. The Atlantic THC shows a 20-yr cycle in the control run, qualitatively agreeing with other modeling results. Compared with the control run, the simulated maximum of the Atlantic THC weakens by about 5 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) or 14% in an ensemble of transient experiments with a 1% CO2 increase per year at the time of CO2 doubling. The weakening of the THC is accompanied by reduced poleward heat transport in the midlatitude North Atlantic. Analyses show that oceanic deep convective activity strengthens significantly in the Greenland–Iceland–Norway (GIN) Seas owing to a saltier (denser) upper ocean, but weakens in the Labrador Sea due to a fresher (lighter) upper ocean and in the south of the Denmark Strait region (SDSR) because of surface warming. The saltiness of the GIN Seas are mainly caused by an increased salty North Atlantic inflow, and reduced sea ice volume fluxes from the Arctic into this region. The warmer SDSR is induced by a reduced heat loss to the atmosphere, and a reduced sea ice flux into this region, resulting in less heat being used to melt ice. Thus, sea ice–related salinity effects appear to be more important in the GIN Seas, but sea ice–melt-related thermal effects seem to be more important in the SDSR region. On the other hand, the fresher Labrador Sea is mainly attributed to increased precipitation. These regional changes produce the overall weakening of the THC in the Labrador Sea and SDSR, and more vigorous ocean overturning in the GIN Seas. The northward heat transport south of 60°N is reduced with increased CO2, but increased north of 60°N due to the increased flow of North Atlantic water across this latitude.

Corresponding author address: Aixue Hu, National Center for Atmospheric Research, P. O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307. Email: ahu@ucar.edu

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