Interdecadal Variability of the Thermohaline Circulation and High-Latitude Surface Fluxes

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Sciences and Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
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Abstract

An idealized North Atlantic Ocean model is forced by climatological wind stress, restoring temperature, and a diagnosed salinity flux. Both centennial and interdecadal oscillations are sustained in the model if the diagnosed salinity flux is characterized by net evaporation in high latitudes. To investigate further the role of salinity fluxes two different linear profiles are imposed: one has net evaporation in high latitudes and the other net precipitation. The first salinity flux induces a purely interdecadal oscillation in the model, while the second one causes a millennial and a decadal-to-interdecadal oscillation. Next, the authors consider a boundary condition for temperature expressed as the sum of a fixed heat flux and a restoring term. Constant heat flux characterized by net cooling in high latitudes leads to an interdecadal oscillation similar to the one caused by net evaporation.

Both the decadal-to-interdecadal and the purely interdecadal oscillation are upper-ocean phenomena. Inter-decadal anomalies are mainly confined to high latitudes, with their center moving anticlockwise near the north-west corner of the model domain; they are amplified and sink in that region. Decadal-to-interdecadal anomalies are mainly confined to midlatitudes, advected eastward by the mean flow, and disappear near the cast coast.

The physical mechanisms for the two oscillations are different. The interdecadal oscillation is caused by surface-density variations in northern high latitudes; variations are due to either net evaporation from the applied salinity flux or constant cooling from the applied heat flux. The decadal-to-interdecadal oscillation is a by-product of deep-water warming, due to the strong braking effect of salinity forcing on thermal forcing: surface saline water from the subtropics overlies continuously warming intermediate water to provide a favorable environment for the decadal-to-interdecadal oscillation. Further analysis implies that in a fully coupled ocean-atmosphere situation the decadal-to-interdecadal oscillation is less likely to exist.

Abstract

An idealized North Atlantic Ocean model is forced by climatological wind stress, restoring temperature, and a diagnosed salinity flux. Both centennial and interdecadal oscillations are sustained in the model if the diagnosed salinity flux is characterized by net evaporation in high latitudes. To investigate further the role of salinity fluxes two different linear profiles are imposed: one has net evaporation in high latitudes and the other net precipitation. The first salinity flux induces a purely interdecadal oscillation in the model, while the second one causes a millennial and a decadal-to-interdecadal oscillation. Next, the authors consider a boundary condition for temperature expressed as the sum of a fixed heat flux and a restoring term. Constant heat flux characterized by net cooling in high latitudes leads to an interdecadal oscillation similar to the one caused by net evaporation.

Both the decadal-to-interdecadal and the purely interdecadal oscillation are upper-ocean phenomena. Inter-decadal anomalies are mainly confined to high latitudes, with their center moving anticlockwise near the north-west corner of the model domain; they are amplified and sink in that region. Decadal-to-interdecadal anomalies are mainly confined to midlatitudes, advected eastward by the mean flow, and disappear near the cast coast.

The physical mechanisms for the two oscillations are different. The interdecadal oscillation is caused by surface-density variations in northern high latitudes; variations are due to either net evaporation from the applied salinity flux or constant cooling from the applied heat flux. The decadal-to-interdecadal oscillation is a by-product of deep-water warming, due to the strong braking effect of salinity forcing on thermal forcing: surface saline water from the subtropics overlies continuously warming intermediate water to provide a favorable environment for the decadal-to-interdecadal oscillation. Further analysis implies that in a fully coupled ocean-atmosphere situation the decadal-to-interdecadal oscillation is less likely to exist.

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