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The Atlantic Meridional Heat Transport at 26.5°N and Its Relationship with the MOC in the RAPID Array and the GFDL and NCAR Coupled Models

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  • 1 NOAA/Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton, New Jersey
  • | 2 Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Miami, Florida
  • | 3 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 4 NOAA/Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton, New Jersey
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Abstract

The link at 26.5°N between the Atlantic meridional heat transport (MHT) and the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (MOC) is investigated in two climate models, the GFDL Climate Model version 2.1 (CM2.1) and the NCAR Community Climate System Model version 4 (CCSM4), and compared with the recent observational estimates from the Rapid Climate Change–Meridional Overturning Circulation and Heatflux Array (RAPID–MOCHA) array. Despite a stronger-than-observed MOC magnitude, both models underestimate the mean MHT at 26.5°N because of an overly diffuse thermocline. Biases result from errors in both overturning and gyre components of the MHT. The observed linear relationship between MHT and MOC at 26.5°N is realistically simulated by the two models and is mainly due to the overturning component of the MHT. Fluctuations in overturning MHT are dominated by Ekman transport variability in CM2.1 and CCSM4, whereas baroclinic geostrophic transport variability plays a larger role in RAPID. CCSM4, which has a parameterization of Nordic Sea overflows and thus a more realistic North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) penetration, shows smaller biases in the overturning heat transport than CM2.1 owing to deeper NADW at colder temperatures. The horizontal gyre heat transport and its sensitivity to the MOC are poorly represented in both models. The wind-driven gyre heat transport is northward in observations at 26.5°N, whereas it is weakly southward in both models, reducing the total MHT. This study emphasizes model biases that are responsible for the too-weak MHT, particularly at the western boundary. The use of direct MHT observations through RAPID allows for identification of the source of the too-weak MHT in the two models, a bias shared by a number of Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5) coupled models.

Corresponding author address: Rym Msadek, NOAA/GFDL, Princeton University, 201 Forrestal Rd., Princeton, NJ 08640. E-mail: rym.msadek@noaa.gov

Abstract

The link at 26.5°N between the Atlantic meridional heat transport (MHT) and the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (MOC) is investigated in two climate models, the GFDL Climate Model version 2.1 (CM2.1) and the NCAR Community Climate System Model version 4 (CCSM4), and compared with the recent observational estimates from the Rapid Climate Change–Meridional Overturning Circulation and Heatflux Array (RAPID–MOCHA) array. Despite a stronger-than-observed MOC magnitude, both models underestimate the mean MHT at 26.5°N because of an overly diffuse thermocline. Biases result from errors in both overturning and gyre components of the MHT. The observed linear relationship between MHT and MOC at 26.5°N is realistically simulated by the two models and is mainly due to the overturning component of the MHT. Fluctuations in overturning MHT are dominated by Ekman transport variability in CM2.1 and CCSM4, whereas baroclinic geostrophic transport variability plays a larger role in RAPID. CCSM4, which has a parameterization of Nordic Sea overflows and thus a more realistic North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) penetration, shows smaller biases in the overturning heat transport than CM2.1 owing to deeper NADW at colder temperatures. The horizontal gyre heat transport and its sensitivity to the MOC are poorly represented in both models. The wind-driven gyre heat transport is northward in observations at 26.5°N, whereas it is weakly southward in both models, reducing the total MHT. This study emphasizes model biases that are responsible for the too-weak MHT, particularly at the western boundary. The use of direct MHT observations through RAPID allows for identification of the source of the too-weak MHT in the two models, a bias shared by a number of Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5) coupled models.

Corresponding author address: Rym Msadek, NOAA/GFDL, Princeton University, 201 Forrestal Rd., Princeton, NJ 08640. E-mail: rym.msadek@noaa.gov
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