Surface-to-Interior Transport Timescales and Ventilation Patterns in a Time-Dependent Circulation Driven by Sustained Climate Warming

Y. Liu aDepartment of Earth System Science, University of California Irvine, Irvine, California

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F. Primeau aDepartment of Earth System Science, University of California Irvine, Irvine, California

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Abstract

The effect of climate warming in response to rising atmospheric CO2 on the ventilation of the ocean remains uncertain. Here we make theoretical advances in elucidating the relationship between ideal age and transit time distribution (TTD) in a time-dependent flow. Subsequently, we develop an offline tracer-transport model to characterize the ventilation patterns and time scales in the time-evolving circulation for the 1850–2300 period as simulated with the Community Earth System Model version 1 (CESMv1) under a business-as-usual warming scenario. We found that by 2300 2.1% less water originates from the high-latitude deep water formation regions (both hemispheres) compared to 1850. In compensation, there is an increase in the water originating from the subantarctic. We also found that slowing meridional overturning circulation causes a gradual increase in mean age during the 1850–2300 period, with a globally averaged mean-age increase of ∼110 years in 2300. Where and when the water will be re-exposed to the atmosphere depends on the post-2300 circulation. For example, if we assume that the circulation persists in its year-2300 state (scenario 1), the mean interior-to-surface transit time in year 1850 is ∼1140 years. In contrast, if we assume that the circulation abruptly recovers to its year-1850 state (scenario 2), the mean interior-to-surface transit time in 1850 is only ∼740 years. By 2300, these differences become even larger; in scenario 1, the mean interior-to-surface transit time increases by ∼200 years, whereas scenario 2 decreases by ∼80 years. The dependence of interior-to-surface transit time on the future ocean circulation produces an additional unavoidable uncertainty in the long-term durability of marine carbon dioxide removal strategies.

Significance Statement

The ocean’s circulation, when altered by climate warming, can affect its capacity to absorb heat and CO2, which are crucial for the global climate. In our study, we investigated how global warming, caused by rising CO2 levels, might impact the ocean circulation—the way water moves from deep ocean to the surface and vice versa. We discovered that by 2300, if we continue on our current warming trajectory, the origins of water within the ocean will shift, with less coming from deep, cold zones near the poles and more from subantarctic regions. As a result, deep water will take longer time before it resurfaces than shallow water. How quickly this water travels from deep regions to the surface could change, depending on the state of future ocean circulation. If the circulation remains as predicted in 2300, this journey will take longer. Conversely, if it reverts to the pattern in 1850, the process will be quicker. This variability introduces added uncertainty to strategies aimed at mitigating climate change by storing CO2 in the ocean. Our work highlights the intricate ways in which climate change can influence our oceans, potentially affecting our plans to mitigate global warming.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Yi Liu, yil45@uci.edu

Abstract

The effect of climate warming in response to rising atmospheric CO2 on the ventilation of the ocean remains uncertain. Here we make theoretical advances in elucidating the relationship between ideal age and transit time distribution (TTD) in a time-dependent flow. Subsequently, we develop an offline tracer-transport model to characterize the ventilation patterns and time scales in the time-evolving circulation for the 1850–2300 period as simulated with the Community Earth System Model version 1 (CESMv1) under a business-as-usual warming scenario. We found that by 2300 2.1% less water originates from the high-latitude deep water formation regions (both hemispheres) compared to 1850. In compensation, there is an increase in the water originating from the subantarctic. We also found that slowing meridional overturning circulation causes a gradual increase in mean age during the 1850–2300 period, with a globally averaged mean-age increase of ∼110 years in 2300. Where and when the water will be re-exposed to the atmosphere depends on the post-2300 circulation. For example, if we assume that the circulation persists in its year-2300 state (scenario 1), the mean interior-to-surface transit time in year 1850 is ∼1140 years. In contrast, if we assume that the circulation abruptly recovers to its year-1850 state (scenario 2), the mean interior-to-surface transit time in 1850 is only ∼740 years. By 2300, these differences become even larger; in scenario 1, the mean interior-to-surface transit time increases by ∼200 years, whereas scenario 2 decreases by ∼80 years. The dependence of interior-to-surface transit time on the future ocean circulation produces an additional unavoidable uncertainty in the long-term durability of marine carbon dioxide removal strategies.

Significance Statement

The ocean’s circulation, when altered by climate warming, can affect its capacity to absorb heat and CO2, which are crucial for the global climate. In our study, we investigated how global warming, caused by rising CO2 levels, might impact the ocean circulation—the way water moves from deep ocean to the surface and vice versa. We discovered that by 2300, if we continue on our current warming trajectory, the origins of water within the ocean will shift, with less coming from deep, cold zones near the poles and more from subantarctic regions. As a result, deep water will take longer time before it resurfaces than shallow water. How quickly this water travels from deep regions to the surface could change, depending on the state of future ocean circulation. If the circulation remains as predicted in 2300, this journey will take longer. Conversely, if it reverts to the pattern in 1850, the process will be quicker. This variability introduces added uncertainty to strategies aimed at mitigating climate change by storing CO2 in the ocean. Our work highlights the intricate ways in which climate change can influence our oceans, potentially affecting our plans to mitigate global warming.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Yi Liu, yil45@uci.edu
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