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Overturning Circulation in an Eddy-Resolving Model: The Effect of the Pole-to-Pole Temperature Gradient

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  • 1 Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California
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Abstract

The effect of the pole-to-pole surface temperature difference on the deep stratification and the strength of the global meridional overturning circulation (MOC) is examined in an eddy-resolving ocean model configured in an idealized domain roughly representing the Atlantic sector. Mesoscale eddies lead to qualitative differences in the mean stratification and the MOC compared to laminar (i.e., eddy free) models. For example, the spreading of fluid across the model’s representation of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) no longer relies on the existence of a sill in the ACC. In addition, the deep- and bottom-water masses—roughly representing North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) and Antarctic Bottom Water (ABW), respectively—are eroded by the eddies so that their zonal and meridional extents are much smaller than in the laminar case. It is found that if the north pole temperature is sufficiently warm, the formation of northern deep water is suppressed and the middepth cell is small and weak while the deep cell is large and vigorous. In contrast, if the north pole temperature is in the range of the southern channel temperatures, the middepth cell is large and strong while the deep cell has a reduced amplitude. This result is consistent with the predictions of the laminar theory of the MOC. In contrast to the laminar theory, realistically strong deep stratification is formed even if the temperature at the northern sinking site is warmer than any temperature found in the channel. Indeed, middepth stratification is actually stronger in the latter case than the former case.

Corresponding author address: Christopher L. Wolfe, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0213. Email: clwolfe@ucsd.edu

Abstract

The effect of the pole-to-pole surface temperature difference on the deep stratification and the strength of the global meridional overturning circulation (MOC) is examined in an eddy-resolving ocean model configured in an idealized domain roughly representing the Atlantic sector. Mesoscale eddies lead to qualitative differences in the mean stratification and the MOC compared to laminar (i.e., eddy free) models. For example, the spreading of fluid across the model’s representation of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) no longer relies on the existence of a sill in the ACC. In addition, the deep- and bottom-water masses—roughly representing North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) and Antarctic Bottom Water (ABW), respectively—are eroded by the eddies so that their zonal and meridional extents are much smaller than in the laminar case. It is found that if the north pole temperature is sufficiently warm, the formation of northern deep water is suppressed and the middepth cell is small and weak while the deep cell is large and vigorous. In contrast, if the north pole temperature is in the range of the southern channel temperatures, the middepth cell is large and strong while the deep cell has a reduced amplitude. This result is consistent with the predictions of the laminar theory of the MOC. In contrast to the laminar theory, realistically strong deep stratification is formed even if the temperature at the northern sinking site is warmer than any temperature found in the channel. Indeed, middepth stratification is actually stronger in the latter case than the former case.

Corresponding author address: Christopher L. Wolfe, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0213. Email: clwolfe@ucsd.edu

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