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On the Relationship between Decadal Buoyancy Anomalies and Variability of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation

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  • 1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Abstract

Owing to the role of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) in ocean heat transport, AMOC variability is thought to play a role in climate variability on a wide range of time scales. This paper focuses on the potential role of the AMOC in climate variability on decadal time scales. Coupled and ocean-only general circulation models run in idealized geometries are utilized to study the relationships between decadal AMOC and buoyancy variability and determine whether the AMOC plays an active role in setting sea surface temperature on decadal time scales. Decadal AMOC variability is related to changes in the buoyancy field along the western boundary according to the thermal wind relation. Buoyancy anomalies originate in the upper ocean of the subpolar gyre and travel westward as baroclinic Rossby waves. When the buoyancy anomalies strike the western boundary, they are advected southward by the deep western boundary current, leading to latitudinally coherent AMOC variability. The AMOC is observed to respond passively to decadal buoyancy anomalies: although variability of the AMOC leads to meridional ocean heat transport anomalies, these transports are not responsible for creating the buoyancy anomalies in the subpolar gyre that drive AMOC variability.

Current affiliation: Atmospheric and Environmental Research, Lexington, Massachusetts.

Corresponding author address: Martha Buckley, 131 Hartwell Avenue #4, Lexington, MA 02421. E-mail: marthab@alum.mit.edu

Abstract

Owing to the role of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) in ocean heat transport, AMOC variability is thought to play a role in climate variability on a wide range of time scales. This paper focuses on the potential role of the AMOC in climate variability on decadal time scales. Coupled and ocean-only general circulation models run in idealized geometries are utilized to study the relationships between decadal AMOC and buoyancy variability and determine whether the AMOC plays an active role in setting sea surface temperature on decadal time scales. Decadal AMOC variability is related to changes in the buoyancy field along the western boundary according to the thermal wind relation. Buoyancy anomalies originate in the upper ocean of the subpolar gyre and travel westward as baroclinic Rossby waves. When the buoyancy anomalies strike the western boundary, they are advected southward by the deep western boundary current, leading to latitudinally coherent AMOC variability. The AMOC is observed to respond passively to decadal buoyancy anomalies: although variability of the AMOC leads to meridional ocean heat transport anomalies, these transports are not responsible for creating the buoyancy anomalies in the subpolar gyre that drive AMOC variability.

Current affiliation: Atmospheric and Environmental Research, Lexington, Massachusetts.

Corresponding author address: Martha Buckley, 131 Hartwell Avenue #4, Lexington, MA 02421. E-mail: marthab@alum.mit.edu
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