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Atmospheric Control on the Thermohaline Circulation

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  • 1 Department of Physics, Imperial College, London, United Kingdom
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Abstract

In an attempt to elucidate the role of atmospheric and oceanic processes in setting a vigorous ocean overturning circulation in the North Atlantic but not in the North Pacific, a comparison of the observed atmospheric circulation and net surface freshwater fluxes over the North Atlantic and Pacific basins is conducted. It is proposed that the more erratic meridional displacements of the atmospheric jet stream over the North Atlantic sector is instrumental in maintaining high surface salinities in its subpolar gyre. In addition, it is suggested that the spatial pattern of the net freshwater flux at the sea surface favors higher subpolar Atlantic salinity, because the geographical line separating net precipitation from net evaporation is found well south of the time-mean gyre separation in the North Pacific, whereas the two lines tend to coincide in the North Atlantic. Numerical experiments with an idealized two-gyre system confirm that these differences impact the salinity budget of the subpolar gyre.

Further analysis of a coupled climate model in which the Atlantic meridional overturning cell has been artificially weakened suggests that the more erratic jet fluctuations in the Atlantic and the shift of the zero [net evaporation minus precipitation (EP)] line are likely explained by features independent of the state of the thermohaline circulation. It is thus proposed that the atmospheric circulation helps “locking” high surface salinities and an active coupling between upper and deep ocean layers in the North Atlantic rather than in the North Pacific basin.

Corresponding author address: Dr. A. Czaja, Imperial College, Prince Consort Road, Huxley Building, Room 726, London SW7 2AZ, United Kingdom. Email: a.czaja@imperial.ac.uk

Abstract

In an attempt to elucidate the role of atmospheric and oceanic processes in setting a vigorous ocean overturning circulation in the North Atlantic but not in the North Pacific, a comparison of the observed atmospheric circulation and net surface freshwater fluxes over the North Atlantic and Pacific basins is conducted. It is proposed that the more erratic meridional displacements of the atmospheric jet stream over the North Atlantic sector is instrumental in maintaining high surface salinities in its subpolar gyre. In addition, it is suggested that the spatial pattern of the net freshwater flux at the sea surface favors higher subpolar Atlantic salinity, because the geographical line separating net precipitation from net evaporation is found well south of the time-mean gyre separation in the North Pacific, whereas the two lines tend to coincide in the North Atlantic. Numerical experiments with an idealized two-gyre system confirm that these differences impact the salinity budget of the subpolar gyre.

Further analysis of a coupled climate model in which the Atlantic meridional overturning cell has been artificially weakened suggests that the more erratic jet fluctuations in the Atlantic and the shift of the zero [net evaporation minus precipitation (EP)] line are likely explained by features independent of the state of the thermohaline circulation. It is thus proposed that the atmospheric circulation helps “locking” high surface salinities and an active coupling between upper and deep ocean layers in the North Atlantic rather than in the North Pacific basin.

Corresponding author address: Dr. A. Czaja, Imperial College, Prince Consort Road, Huxley Building, Room 726, London SW7 2AZ, United Kingdom. Email: a.czaja@imperial.ac.uk

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