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Juliette Mignot and Claude Frankignoul

Abstract

The link between the interannual to interdecadal variability of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) and the atmospheric forcing is investigated using 200 yr of a control simulation of the Bergen Climate Model, where the mean circulation cell is rather realistic, as is also the location of deep convection in the northern North Atlantic. The AMOC variability has a slightly red frequency spectrum and is primarily forced by the atmosphere. The maximum value of the AMOC is mostly sensitive to the deep convection in the Irminger Sea, which it lags by about 5 yr. The latter is mostly forced by a succession of atmospheric patterns that induce anomalous northerly winds over the area. The impact of the North Atlantic Oscillation on deep convection in the Labrador and Greenland Seas is represented realistically, but its influence on the AMOC is limited to the interannual time scale and is primarily associated with wind forcing. The tropical Pacific shows a strong variability in the model, with too strong an influence on the North Atlantic. However, its influence on the tropical Atlantic is realistic. Based on lagged correlations and the release of fictitious Lagrangian drifters, the tropical Pacific seems to influence the AMOC with a time lag of about 40 yr. The mechanism is as follows: El Niño events induce positive sea surface salinity anomalies in the tropical Atlantic that are advected northward, circulate in the subtropical gyre, and then subduct. In the ocean interior, part of the salinity anomaly is advected along the North Atlantic current, eventually reaching the Irminger and Labrador Seas after about 35 yr where they destabilize the water column and favor deep convection.

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Andreas Born, Juliette Mignot, and Thomas F. Stocker

Abstract

Decadal climate variability in the North Atlantic has received increased attention in recent years, because modeling results suggest predictability of heat content and circulation indices several years ahead. However, determining the applicability of these results in the real world is challenging because of an incomplete understanding of the underlying mechanisms. Here, the authors show that recent attempts to reconstruct the decadal variations in one of the dominant circulation systems of the region, the subpolar gyre (SPG), are not always consistent. A coherent picture is partly recovered by a simple conceptual model solely forced by reanalyzed surface air temperatures. This confirms that surface heat flux indeed plays a leading role for this type of variability, as has been suggested in previous studies. The results further suggest that large variations in the SPG correspond to the crossing of a bifurcation point that is predicted from idealized experiments and an analytical solution of the model used herein. Performance of this conceptual model is tested against a statistical stochastic model. Hysteresis and the existence of two stable modes of the SPG circulation shape its response to forcing by atmospheric temperatures. The identification of the essential dynamics and the reduction to a minimal model of SPG variability provide a quantifiable basis and a framework for future studies on decadal climate variability and predictability.

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Ben Marzeion, Anders Levermann, and Juliette Mignot

Abstract

Using the “CLIMBER-3α” coupled climate model of intermediate complexity, the effect of a stratification-dependent vertical diffusivity on the sensitivity of the Atlantic Ocean meridional overturning circulation to perturbations in freshwater forcing is investigated. The vertical diffusivity κ is calculated as κN α, where N is the local buoyancy frequency and the parameter α is a measure of the sensitivity of the vertical diffusivity to changes in stratification. Independent of α, the stratification of the deep ocean is weakly increased as a response to an anomalous freshwater flux in the North Atlantic in these experiments. In the region of freshwater forcing and north of it this is caused by the freshwater anomaly itself, but farther south it is associated with anomalously warm surface waters caused by a reduction of the northward oceanic heat transport. Subsequently, and in opposition to results from previous studies, the overturning is reduced by the anomalous freshwater flux, independent of the choice of α. However, the amount of reduction in overturning following a freshwater perturbation is found to depend critically on the choice of the mixing sensitivity α. If α < α cr, the response is similar to the model’s response using constant vertical diffusivity (α = 0). For α > α cr, a sharp increase of the sensitivity is found. The value of α cr is found to be between 0.5 and 1. A general feedback is proposed explaining this threshold behavior: if α is large, both positive and negative perturbations of stratification are amplified by associated changes in diffusivity. In the experiments presented here, this enhances the initial positive stratification anomaly in northern high latitudes, which is created by the anomalous freshwater flux. As a result, convection is strongly reduced, and the overturning is significantly weakened.

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Juliette Mignot, Anders Levermann, and Alexa Griesel

Abstract

The sensitivity of the Atlantic Ocean meridional overturning circulation to the vertical diffusion coefficient κ in the global coupled atmosphere–ocean–sea ice model CLIMBER-3α is investigated. An important feature of the three-dimensional ocean model is its low-diffusive tracer advection scheme. The strength M max of the Atlantic overturning is decomposed into three components: 1) the flow MS exported southward at 30°S, 2) the large-scale upward flow that balances vertical diffusion in the Atlantic, and 3) a wind-dependent upwelling flux W bound along the Atlantic boundaries that is not due to vertical diffusion. The export of water at 30°S varies only weakly with κ, but is strongly correlated with the strength of the overflow over the Greenland–Scotland ridge. The location of deep convection is found to be mixing dependent such that a shift from the Nordic seas to the Irminger Sea is detected for high values of κ. The ratio R = MS/M max gives a measure of the interhemispheric overturning efficiency and is found to decrease linearly with κ. The diffusion-induced upwelling in the Atlantic is mostly due to the uniform background value of κ while parameterization of enhanced mixing over rough topography and in stratified areas gives only a weak contribution to the overturning strength. It increases linearly with κ. This is consistent with the classic 2/3 scaling law only when taking the linear variation of the density difference to κ into account. The value of W bound is roughly constant with κ but depends linearly on the wind stress strength in the North Atlantic. The pycnocline depth is not sensitive to changes in κ in the model used herein, and the results suggest that it is primarily set by the forcing of the Southern Ocean winds. The scaling of the total overturning strength with κ depends on the combined sensitivity of each of the terms to κ. In the range of background diffusivity values in which no switch in deep convection sites is detected, M max scales linearly with the vertical diffusivity. It is argued that scalings have, in general, to be interpreted with care because of the generally very small range of κ but also because of possible shifts in important physical processes such as deep convection location.

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Camille Marini, Claude Frankignoul, and Juliette Mignot

Abstract

The links between the atmospheric southern annular mode (SAM), the Southern Ocean, and the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) at interannual to multidecadal time scales are investigated in a 500-yr control integration of the L’Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace Coupled Model, version 4 (IPSL CM4) climate model. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current, as described by its transport through the Drake Passage, is well correlated with the SAM at the yearly time scale, reflecting that an intensification of the westerlies south of 45°S leads to its acceleration. Also in phase with a positive SAM, the global meridional overturning circulation is modified in the Southern Hemisphere, primarily reflecting a forced barotropic response. In the model, the AMOC and the SAM are linked at several time scales. An intensification of the AMOC lags a positive SAM by about 8 yr. This is due to a correlation between the SAM and the atmospheric circulation in the northern North Atlantic that reflects a symmetric ENSO influence on the two hemispheres, as well as an independent, delayed interhemispheric link driven by the SAM. Both effects lead to an intensification of the subpolar gyre and, by salinity advection, increased deep convection and a stronger AMOC. A slower oceanic link between the SAM and the AMOC is found at a multidecadal time scale. Salinity anomalies generated by the SAM enter the South Atlantic from the Drake Passage and, more importantly, the Indian Ocean; they propagate northward, eventually reaching the northern North Atlantic where, for a positive SAM, they decrease the vertical stratification and thus increase the AMOC.

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Julián Villamayor, Elsa Mohino, Myriam Khodri, Juliette Mignot, and Serge Janicot

Abstract

Precipitation regime shifts in the Sahel region have dramatic humanitarian and economic consequences such as the severe droughts during the 1970s and 1980s. Though Sahel precipitation changes during the late twentieth century have been extensively studied, little is known about the decadal variability prior to the twentieth century. Some evidence suggests that during the second half of the nineteenth century, the Sahel was as rainy as or even more rainy than during the 1950s and 1960s. Here, we reproduce such an anomalous Sahel humid period in the late nineteenth century by means of climate simulations. We show that this increase of rainfall was associated with an anomalous supply of humidity and higher-than-normal deep convection in the mid- and high troposphere. We present evidence suggesting that sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Atlantic basin played the dominant role in driving decadal Sahel rainfall variability during this early period.

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Didier Swingedouw, Juliette Mignot, Pascale Braconnot, Eloi Mosquet, Masa Kageyama, and Ramdane Alkama

Abstract

The response of climate to freshwater input in the North Atlantic (NA) has raised a lot of concern about the issue of climate stability since the discovery of abrupt coolings during the last glacial period. Such coolings have usually been related to a weakening of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), probably associated with massive iceberg surges or meltwater pulses. Additionally, the recent increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has also raised the possibility of a melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which may impact the future AMOC, and thereby the climate. In this study, the extent to which the mean climate influences the freshwater release linked to ice sheet melting in the NA and the associated climatic response is explored. For this purpose the simulations of several climatic states [last interglacial, Last Glacial Maximum, mid-Holocene, preindustrial, and future (2 × CO2)] are considered, and the climatic response to a freshwater input computed interactively according to a surface heat flux budget over the ice sheets is analyzed. It is shown that the AMOC response is not linear with the freshwater input and depends on the mean climate state. The climatic responses to these different AMOC changes share qualitative similarities for the general picture, notably a cooling in the Northern Hemisphere and a southward shift of the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) in the Atlantic and across the Panama Isthmus. The cooling in the Northern Hemisphere is related to the sea ice cover response, which strongly depends on the responses of the atmospheric circulation, the local oceanic heat transport, and the density threshold of the oceanic convection sites. These feedbacks and the magnitude of temperature and precipitation changes outside the North Atlantic depend on the mean climate.

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Ed Hawkins, Pablo Ortega, Emma Suckling, Andrew Schurer, Gabi Hegerl, Phil Jones, Manoj Joshi, Timothy J. Osborn, Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Juliette Mignot, Peter Thorne, and Geert Jan van Oldenborgh

Abstract

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process agreed in Paris to limit global surface temperature rise to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.” But what period is preindustrial? Somewhat remarkably, this is not defined within the UNFCCC’s many agreements and protocols. Nor is it defined in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) in the evaluation of when particular temperature levels might be reached because no robust definition of the period exists. Here we discuss the important factors to consider when defining a preindustrial period, based on estimates of historical radiative forcings and the availability of climate observations. There is no perfect period, but we suggest that 1720–1800 is the most suitable choice when discussing global temperature limits. We then estimate the change in global average temperature since preindustrial using a range of approaches based on observations, radiative forcings, global climate model simulations, and proxy evidence. Our assessment is that this preindustrial period was likely 0.55°–0.80°C cooler than 1986–2005 and that 2015 was likely the first year in which global average temperature was more than 1°C above preindustrial levels. We provide some recommendations for how this assessment might be improved in the future and suggest that reframing temperature limits with a modern baseline would be inherently less uncertain and more policy relevant.

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Gerald A. Meehl, Lisa Goddard, George Boer, Robert Burgman, Grant Branstator, Christophe Cassou, Susanna Corti, Gokhan Danabasoglu, Francisco Doblas-Reyes, Ed Hawkins, Alicia Karspeck, Masahide Kimoto, Arun Kumar, Daniela Matei, Juliette Mignot, Rym Msadek, Antonio Navarra, Holger Pohlmann, Michele Rienecker, Tony Rosati, Edwin Schneider, Doug Smith, Rowan Sutton, Haiyan Teng, Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, Gabriel Vecchi, and Stephen Yeager

This paper provides an update on research in the relatively new and fast-moving field of decadal climate prediction, and addresses the use of decadal climate predictions not only for potential users of such information but also for improving our understanding of processes in the climate system. External forcing influences the predictions throughout, but their contributions to predictive skill become dominant after most of the improved skill from initialization with observations vanishes after about 6–9 years. Recent multimodel results suggest that there is relatively more decadal predictive skill in the North Atlantic, western Pacific, and Indian Oceans than in other regions of the world oceans. Aspects of decadal variability of SSTs, like the mid-1970s shift in the Pacific, the mid-1990s shift in the northern North Atlantic and western Pacific, and the early-2000s hiatus, are better represented in initialized hindcasts compared to uninitialized simulations. There is evidence of higher skill in initialized multimodel ensemble decadal hindcasts than in single model results, with multimodel initialized predictions for near-term climate showing somewhat less global warming than uninitialized simulations. Some decadal hindcasts have shown statistically reliable predictions of surface temperature over various land and ocean regions for lead times of up to 6–9 years, but this needs to be investigated in a wider set of models. As in the early days of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) prediction, improvements to models will reduce the need for bias adjustment, and increase the reliability, and thus usefulness, of decadal climate predictions in the future.

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