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Robin Waldman, Joël Hirschi, Aurore Voldoire, Christophe Cassou, and Rym Msadek

Abstract

This work aims to clarify the relation between the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) and the thermal wind. We derive a new and generic dynamical AMOC decomposition that expresses the thermal wind transport as a simple vertical integral function of eastern minus western boundary densities. This allows us to express density anomalies at any depth as a geostrophic transport in Sverdrups (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) per meter and to predict that density anomalies around the depth of maximum overturning induce most AMOC transport. We then apply this formalism to identify the dynamical drivers of the centennial AMOC variability in the CNRM-CM6 climate model. The dynamical reconstruction and specifically the thermal wind component explain over 80% of the low-frequency AMOC variance at all latitudes, which is therefore almost exclusively driven by density anomalies at both zonal boundaries. This transport variability is dominated by density anomalies between depths of 500 and 1500 m, in agreement with theoretical predictions. At those depths, southward-propagating western boundary temperature anomalies induce the centennial geostrophic AMOC transport variability in the North Atlantic. They are originated along the western boundary of the subpolar gyre through the Labrador Sea deep convection and the Davis Strait overflow.

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