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Kristofer Döös
Joakim Kjellsson
Jan Zika
Frédéric Laliberté
Laurent Brodeau
, and
Aitor Aldama Campino


The thermohaline circulation of the ocean is compared to the hydrothermal circulation of the atmosphere. The oceanic thermohaline circulation is expressed in potential temperature–absolute salinity space and comprises a tropical cell, a conveyor belt cell, and a polar cell, whereas the atmospheric hydrothermal circulation is expressed in potential temperature–specific humidity space and unifies the tropical Hadley and Walker cells as well as the midlatitude eddies into a single, global circulation. The oceanic thermohaline streamfunction makes it possible to analyze and quantify the entire World Ocean conversion rate between cold–warm and fresh–saline waters in one single representation. Its atmospheric analog, the hydrothermal streamfunction, instead captures the conversion rate between cold–warm and dry–humid air in one single representation. It is shown that the ocean thermohaline and the atmospheric hydrothermal cells are connected by the exchange of heat and freshwater through the sea surface. The two circulations are compared on the same diagram by scaling the axes such that the latent heat energy required to move an air parcel on the moisture axis is equivalent to that needed to move a water parcel on the salinity axis. Such a comparison leads the authors to propose that the Clausius–Clapeyron relationship guides both the moist branch of the atmospheric hydrothermal circulation and the warming branches of the tropical and conveyor belt cells of the oceanic thermohaline circulation.

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