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How Well Do Climate Models Reproduce North Atlantic Subtropical Mode Water?

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  • 1 Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, University of Miami, and NOAA/Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, Miami, Florida
  • | 2 Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

Formation and the subsequent evolution of the subtropical mode water (STMW) involve various dynamic and thermodynamic processes. Proper representation of mode water variability and contributions from various processes in climate models is important in order to predict future climate change under changing forcings. The North Atlantic STMW, often referred to as Eighteen Degree Water (EDW), in three coupled models, both with data assimilation [GFDL coupled data assimilation (GFDL CDA)] and without data assimilation [GFDL Climate Model, version 2.1 (GFDL CM2.1), and NCAR Community Climate System Model, version 3 (CCSM3)], is analyzed to evaluate how well EDW processes are simulated in those models and to examine whether data assimilation alters the model response to forcing. In comparison with estimates from observations, the data-assimilating model gives a better representation of the formation rate, the spatial distribution of EDW, and its thickness, with the largest EDW variability along the Gulf Stream (GS) path. The EDW formation rate in GFDL CM2.1 is very weak because of weak heat loss from the ocean in the model. Unlike the observed dominant southward movement of the EDW, the EDW in GFDL CM2.1 and CCSM3 moves eastward after formation in the excessively wide GS in the models. However, the GFDL CDA does not capture the observed thermal response of the overlying atmosphere to the ocean. Observations show a robust anticorrelation between the upper-ocean heat content and air–sea heat flux, with upper-ocean heat content leading air–sea heat flux by a few months. This anticorrelation is well captured by GFDL CM2.1 and CCSM3 but not by GFDL CDA. Only GFDL CM2.1 captures the observed anticorrelation between the upper-ocean heat content and EDW volume. This suggests that, although data assimilation corrects the readily observed variables, it degrades the model thermodynamic response to forcing.

Corresponding author address: Shenfu Dong, CIMAS/University of Miami/NOAA, 4301 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL 33149. E-mail: shenfu.dong@noaa.gov

Abstract

Formation and the subsequent evolution of the subtropical mode water (STMW) involve various dynamic and thermodynamic processes. Proper representation of mode water variability and contributions from various processes in climate models is important in order to predict future climate change under changing forcings. The North Atlantic STMW, often referred to as Eighteen Degree Water (EDW), in three coupled models, both with data assimilation [GFDL coupled data assimilation (GFDL CDA)] and without data assimilation [GFDL Climate Model, version 2.1 (GFDL CM2.1), and NCAR Community Climate System Model, version 3 (CCSM3)], is analyzed to evaluate how well EDW processes are simulated in those models and to examine whether data assimilation alters the model response to forcing. In comparison with estimates from observations, the data-assimilating model gives a better representation of the formation rate, the spatial distribution of EDW, and its thickness, with the largest EDW variability along the Gulf Stream (GS) path. The EDW formation rate in GFDL CM2.1 is very weak because of weak heat loss from the ocean in the model. Unlike the observed dominant southward movement of the EDW, the EDW in GFDL CM2.1 and CCSM3 moves eastward after formation in the excessively wide GS in the models. However, the GFDL CDA does not capture the observed thermal response of the overlying atmosphere to the ocean. Observations show a robust anticorrelation between the upper-ocean heat content and air–sea heat flux, with upper-ocean heat content leading air–sea heat flux by a few months. This anticorrelation is well captured by GFDL CM2.1 and CCSM3 but not by GFDL CDA. Only GFDL CM2.1 captures the observed anticorrelation between the upper-ocean heat content and EDW volume. This suggests that, although data assimilation corrects the readily observed variables, it degrades the model thermodynamic response to forcing.

Corresponding author address: Shenfu Dong, CIMAS/University of Miami/NOAA, 4301 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL 33149. E-mail: shenfu.dong@noaa.gov
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