How Much Has the North Atlantic Ocean Overturning Circulation Changed in the Last 50 Years?

Simon F. B. Tett School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

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Toby J. Sherwin Scottish Association for Marine Science, Scottish Marine Institute, Oban, United Kingdom

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Amrita Shravat Scottish Association for Marine Science, Scottish Marine Institute, Oban, and School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

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Oliver Browne School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

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Abstract

Volume transports from six ocean reanalyses are compared with four sets of in situ observations: across the Greenland–Scotland ridge (GSR), in the Labrador Sea boundary current, in the deep western boundary current at 43°N, and in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) at 26°N in the North Atlantic. The higher-resolution reanalyses (on the order of ¼° × ¼°) are better at reproducing the circulation pattern in the subpolar gyre than those with lower resolution (on the order of 1°). Simple Ocean Data Assimilation (SODA) and Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (ECCO)–Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) produce transports at 26°N that are close to those observed [17 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1)]. ECCO, version 2, and SODA produce northward transports across the GSR (observed transport of 8.2 Sv) that are 22% and 29% too big, respectively. By contrast, the low-resolution reanalyses have transports that are either too small [by 31% for ECCO-JPL and 49% for Ocean Reanalysis, system 3 (ORA-S3)] or much too large [Decadal Prediction System (DePreSys)]. SODA had the best simulations of mixed layer depth and with two coarse grid long-term reanalyses (DePreSys and ORA-S3) is used to examine changes in North Atlantic circulation from 1960 to 2008. Its results suggest that the AMOC increased by about 20% at 26°N while transport across the GSR hardly altered. The other (less reliable) long-term reanalyses also had small changes across the GSR but changes of +10% and −20%, respectively, at 26°N. Thus, it appears that changes in the overturning circulation at 26°N are decoupled from the flow across the GSR. It is recommended that transport observations should not be assimilated in ocean reanalyses but used for validation instead.

Corresponding author address: Toby Sherwin, Scottish Association for Marine Science, Scottish Marine Institute, Oban, Argyll PA37 1QA, United Kingdom. E-mail: toby.sherwin@sams.ac.uk

Abstract

Volume transports from six ocean reanalyses are compared with four sets of in situ observations: across the Greenland–Scotland ridge (GSR), in the Labrador Sea boundary current, in the deep western boundary current at 43°N, and in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) at 26°N in the North Atlantic. The higher-resolution reanalyses (on the order of ¼° × ¼°) are better at reproducing the circulation pattern in the subpolar gyre than those with lower resolution (on the order of 1°). Simple Ocean Data Assimilation (SODA) and Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (ECCO)–Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) produce transports at 26°N that are close to those observed [17 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1)]. ECCO, version 2, and SODA produce northward transports across the GSR (observed transport of 8.2 Sv) that are 22% and 29% too big, respectively. By contrast, the low-resolution reanalyses have transports that are either too small [by 31% for ECCO-JPL and 49% for Ocean Reanalysis, system 3 (ORA-S3)] or much too large [Decadal Prediction System (DePreSys)]. SODA had the best simulations of mixed layer depth and with two coarse grid long-term reanalyses (DePreSys and ORA-S3) is used to examine changes in North Atlantic circulation from 1960 to 2008. Its results suggest that the AMOC increased by about 20% at 26°N while transport across the GSR hardly altered. The other (less reliable) long-term reanalyses also had small changes across the GSR but changes of +10% and −20%, respectively, at 26°N. Thus, it appears that changes in the overturning circulation at 26°N are decoupled from the flow across the GSR. It is recommended that transport observations should not be assimilated in ocean reanalyses but used for validation instead.

Corresponding author address: Toby Sherwin, Scottish Association for Marine Science, Scottish Marine Institute, Oban, Argyll PA37 1QA, United Kingdom. E-mail: toby.sherwin@sams.ac.uk
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