Climate Signals in the Mid- to High-Latitude North Atlantic from Altimeter Observations

Feili Li College of Earth, Ocean and Environment, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware

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Young-Heon Jo College of Earth, Ocean and Environment, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware

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Xiao-Hai Yan College of Earth, Ocean and Environment, University of Delaware, and University of Delaware–Xiamen University Joint Institute of Coastal Research and Management, Newark, Delaware

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W. Timothy Liu Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California

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Abstract

The variability of the sea surface height anomaly (SSHA) in the mid- to high-latitude North Atlantic for the period of 1993–2010 was investigated using the ensemble empirical mode decomposition to identify the dominant time scales. Sea level variations in the North Atlantic subpolar gyre (SPG) are dominated by the annual cycle and the long-term increasing trend. In comparison, the SSHA along the Gulf Stream (GS) is dominated by variability at intraseasonal and annual time scales. Moreover, the sea level rise in the SPG developed at a reduced rate in the 2000s compared to rates in the 1990s, which was accompanied by a rebound in SSHA variability following a period of lower variability in the system. These changes in both apparent trend and low-frequency SSHA oscillations reveal the importance of low-frequency variability in the SPG. To identify the possible contributing factors for these changes, the heat content balance (equivalent variations in the sea level) in the subpolar region was examined. The results indicate that horizontal circulations may primarily contribute to the interannual to decadal variations, while the air–sea heat flux is not negligible at annual time scale. Furthermore, the low-frequency variability in the SPG relates to the propagation of Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) variations from the deep-water formation region to midlatitudes in the North Atlantic, which might have the implications for recent global surface warming hiatus.

Corresponding author address: Xiao-Hai Yan, College of Earth, Ocean and Environment, University of Delaware, 261 S. College Ave., Newark, DE 19716. E-mail: xiaohai@udel.edu

Current affiliation: Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.

Current affiliation: Department of Oceanography, Pusan National University, Busan, South Korea.

Abstract

The variability of the sea surface height anomaly (SSHA) in the mid- to high-latitude North Atlantic for the period of 1993–2010 was investigated using the ensemble empirical mode decomposition to identify the dominant time scales. Sea level variations in the North Atlantic subpolar gyre (SPG) are dominated by the annual cycle and the long-term increasing trend. In comparison, the SSHA along the Gulf Stream (GS) is dominated by variability at intraseasonal and annual time scales. Moreover, the sea level rise in the SPG developed at a reduced rate in the 2000s compared to rates in the 1990s, which was accompanied by a rebound in SSHA variability following a period of lower variability in the system. These changes in both apparent trend and low-frequency SSHA oscillations reveal the importance of low-frequency variability in the SPG. To identify the possible contributing factors for these changes, the heat content balance (equivalent variations in the sea level) in the subpolar region was examined. The results indicate that horizontal circulations may primarily contribute to the interannual to decadal variations, while the air–sea heat flux is not negligible at annual time scale. Furthermore, the low-frequency variability in the SPG relates to the propagation of Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) variations from the deep-water formation region to midlatitudes in the North Atlantic, which might have the implications for recent global surface warming hiatus.

Corresponding author address: Xiao-Hai Yan, College of Earth, Ocean and Environment, University of Delaware, 261 S. College Ave., Newark, DE 19716. E-mail: xiaohai@udel.edu

Current affiliation: Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.

Current affiliation: Department of Oceanography, Pusan National University, Busan, South Korea.

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