AMOC stability and diverging response to Arctic sea ice decline in two climate models

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  • 1 Climate and Global Dynamics, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, USA
  • 2 Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA
  • 3 LOCEAN/IPSL, Sorbonne University, Paris, France
  • 4 Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of California Riverside, Riverside, California, USA
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Abstract

This study compares the impacts of Arctic sea ice decline on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) in two configurations of the Community Earth System Model (CESM) with different horizontal resolution. In a suite of model experiments we impose radiative imbalance at the ice surface, replicating a loss of sea ice cover comparable to the observed during 1979-2014, and find dramatic differences in the AMOC response between the two models. In the lower-resolution configuration, the AMOC weakens by about one third over the first 100 years, approaching a new quasi-equilibrium. By contrast, in the higher-resolution configuration, the AMOC weakens by ~10% during the first 20-30 years followed by a full recovery driven by invigorated deep water formation in the Labrador Sea and adjacent regions. We investigate these differences using a diagnostic AMOC stability indicator, which reflects the AMOC freshwater transport in and out of the basin and hence the strength of the basin-scale salt-advection feedback. This indicator suggests that the AMOC in the lower-resolution model is less stable and more sensitive to surface perturbations, as confirmed by hosing experiments mimicking Arctic freshening due to sea ice decline. Differences between the models’ mean states, including the Atlantic mean surface freshwater fluxes, control the differences in AMOC stability. Our results demonstrate that the AMOC stability indicator is indeed useful for evaluating AMOC sensitivity to perturbations. Finally, we emphasize that, despite the differences in the long-term adjustment, both models simulate a multi-decadal AMOC weakening caused by Arctic sea ice decline, relevant to climate change.

Corresponding author: Hui Li (huili7@ucar.edu)

Abstract

This study compares the impacts of Arctic sea ice decline on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) in two configurations of the Community Earth System Model (CESM) with different horizontal resolution. In a suite of model experiments we impose radiative imbalance at the ice surface, replicating a loss of sea ice cover comparable to the observed during 1979-2014, and find dramatic differences in the AMOC response between the two models. In the lower-resolution configuration, the AMOC weakens by about one third over the first 100 years, approaching a new quasi-equilibrium. By contrast, in the higher-resolution configuration, the AMOC weakens by ~10% during the first 20-30 years followed by a full recovery driven by invigorated deep water formation in the Labrador Sea and adjacent regions. We investigate these differences using a diagnostic AMOC stability indicator, which reflects the AMOC freshwater transport in and out of the basin and hence the strength of the basin-scale salt-advection feedback. This indicator suggests that the AMOC in the lower-resolution model is less stable and more sensitive to surface perturbations, as confirmed by hosing experiments mimicking Arctic freshening due to sea ice decline. Differences between the models’ mean states, including the Atlantic mean surface freshwater fluxes, control the differences in AMOC stability. Our results demonstrate that the AMOC stability indicator is indeed useful for evaluating AMOC sensitivity to perturbations. Finally, we emphasize that, despite the differences in the long-term adjustment, both models simulate a multi-decadal AMOC weakening caused by Arctic sea ice decline, relevant to climate change.

Corresponding author: Hui Li (huili7@ucar.edu)
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