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Florian Sévellec, Joël J.-M. Hirschi, and Adam T. Blaker
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Florian Sévellec, Joël J.-M. Hirschi, and Adam T. Blaker

Abstract

The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) is a crucial component of the global climate system. It is responsible for around a quarter of the global northward heat transport and contributes to the mild European climate. Observations and numerical models suggest a wide range of AMOC variability. Recent results from an ocean general circulation model (OGCM) in a high-resolution configuration (¼°) suggest the existence of superinertial variability of the AMOC. In this study, the validity of this result in a theoretical framework is tested. At a low Rossby number and in the presence of Rayleigh friction, it is demonstrated that, unlike a typical forced damped oscillator (which shows subinertial resonance), the AMOC undergoes both super- and subinertial resonances (except at low latitudes and for high friction). A dimensionless number Sr, measuring the ratio of ageo- to geostrophic forcing (i.e., the zonal versus meridional pressure gradients), indicates which of these resonances dominates. If Sr ≪ 1, the AMOC variability is mainly driven by geostrophic forcing and shows subinertial resonance. Alternatively and consistent with the recently published ¼° OGCM experiments, if Sr ≫ 1, the AMOC variability is mainly driven by the ageostrophic forcing and shows superinertial resonance. In both regimes, a forcing of ±1 K induces an AMOC variability of ±10 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) through these near-inertial resonance phenomena. It is also shown that, as expected from numerical simulations, the spatial structure of the near-inertial AMOC variability corresponds to equatorward-propagating waves equivalent to baroclinic Poincaré waves. The long-time average of this resonance phenomenon, raising and depressing the pycnocline, could contribute to the mixing of the ocean stratification.

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Michael J. Bell, Adam T. Blaker, and Joël J.-M. Hirschi

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Large-amplitude [±100 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1)], high-frequency oscillations in the Pacific Ocean’s meridional overturning circulation within 10° of the equator have been found in integrations of the NEMO ocean general circulation model. Part I of this paper showed that these oscillations are dominated by two bands of frequencies with periods close to 4 and 10 days and that they are driven by the winds within about 10° of the equator. This part shows that the oscillations can be well simulated by small-amplitude, wind-driven motions on a horizontally uniform, stably stratified state of rest. Its main novelty is that, by focusing on the zonally integrated linearized equations, it presents solutions for the motions in a basin with sloping side boundaries. The solutions are found using vertical normal modes and equatorial meridional modes representing Yanai and inertia–gravity waves. Simulations of 16-day-long segments of the time series for the Pacific of each of the first three meridional and vertical modes (nine modes in all) capture between 85% and 95% of the variance of matching time series segments diagnosed from the NEMO integrations. The best agreement is obtained by driving the solutions with the full wind forcing and the full pressure forces on the bathymetry. Similar results are obtained for the corresponding modes in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Slower variations in the same meridional and vertical modes of the MOC are also shown to be well simulated by a quasi-stationary solution driven by zonal wind and pressure forces.

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Jian Buchan, Joël J.-M. Hirschi, Adam T. Blaker, and Bablu Sinha

Abstract

Northern Europe experienced consecutive periods of extreme cold weather in the winter of 2009/10 and in late 2010. These periods were characterized by a tripole pattern in North Atlantic sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies and exceptionally negative phases of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). A global ocean–atmosphere general circulation model (OAGCM) is used to investigate the ocean’s role in influencing North Atlantic and European climate. Observed SST anomalies are used to force the atmospheric model and the resultant changes in atmospheric conditions over northern Europe are examined. Different atmospheric responses occur in the winter of 2009/10 and the early winter of 2010. These experiments suggest that North Atlantic SST anomalies did not significantly affect the development of the negative NAO phase in the cold winter of 2009/10. However, in November and December 2010 the large-scale North Atlantic SST anomaly pattern leads to a significant shift in the atmospheric circulation over the North Atlantic toward a NAO negative phase. Therefore, these results indicate that SST anomalies in November/December 2010 were particularly conducive to the development of a negative NAO phase, which culminated in the extreme cold weather conditions experienced over northern Europe in December 2010.

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Adam T. Blaker, Joël J.-M. Hirschi, Michael J. Bell, and Amy Bokota

Abstract

The great ocean conveyor presents a time-mean perspective on the interconnected network of major ocean currents. Zonally integrating the meridional velocities, either globally or across basin-scale domains, reduces the conveyor to a 2D projection widely known as the meridional overturning circulation (MOC). Recent model studies have shown the MOC to exhibit variability on near-inertial time scales, and also indicate a region of enhanced variability on the equator. We present an analysis of three integrations of a global configuration of a numerical ocean model, which show very large amplitude oscillations in the MOCs in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans confined to the equatorial region. The amplitude of these oscillations is proportional to the width of the ocean basin, typically about 100 (200) Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) in the Atlantic (Pacific). We show that these oscillations are driven by surface winds within 10°N/S of the equator, and their periods (typically 4–10 days) correspond to a small number of low-mode equatorially trapped planetary waves. Furthermore, the oscillations can be well reproduced by idealized wind-driven simulations linearized about a state of rest.

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Jeremy P. Grist, Simon A. Josey, Robert Marsh, Young-Oh Kwon, Rory J. Bingham, and Adam T. Blaker

Abstract

Estimates of the recent mean and time varying water mass transformation rates associated with North Atlantic surface-forced overturning are presented. The estimates are derived from heat and freshwater surface fluxes and sea surface temperature fields from six atmospheric reanalyses—the Japanese 25-yr Reanalysis (JRA), the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis (NCEP1), the NCEP–U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reanalysis (NCEP2), the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Interim Re-Analysis (ERA-I), the Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (CFSR), and the Modern-Era Reanalysis for Research and Applications (MERRA)—together with sea surface salinity fields from two globally gridded datasets (World Ocean Atlas and Met Office EN3 datasets). The resulting 12 estimates of the 1979–2007 mean surface-forced streamfunction all depict a subpolar cell, with maxima north of 45°N, near σ = 27.5 kg m−3, and a subtropical cell between 20° and 40°N, near σ = 26.1 kg m−3. The mean magnitude of the subpolar cell varies between 12 and 18 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1), consistent with estimates of the overturning circulation from subsurface observations. Analysis of the thermal and haline components of the surface density fluxes indicates that large differences in the inferred low-latitude circulation are largely a result of the biases in reanalysis net heat flux fields, which range in the global mean from −13 to 19 W m−2. The different estimates of temporal variability in the subpolar cell are well correlated with each other. This suggests that the uncertainty associated with the choice of reanalysis product does not critically limit the ability of the method to infer the variability in the subpolar overturning. In contrast, the different estimates of subtropical variability are poorly correlated with each other, and only a subset of them captures a significant fraction of the variability in independently estimated North Atlantic Subtropical Mode Water volume.

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Joël J.-M. Hirschi, Eleanor Frajka-Williams, Adam T. Blaker, Bablu Sinha, Andrew Coward, Pat Hyder, Arne Biastoch, Claus Böning, Bernard Barnier, Thierry Penduff, Ixetl Garcia, Filippa Fransner, and Gurvan Madec

Abstract

Satellite observations and output from a high-resolution ocean model are used to investigate how the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico affects the Gulf Stream transport through the Florida Straits. We find that the expansion (contraction) of the Loop Current leads to lower (higher) transports through the Straits of Florida. The associated surface velocity anomalies are coherent from the southwestern tip of Florida to Cape Hatteras. A simple continuity-based argument can be used to explain the link between the Loop Current and the downstream Gulf Stream transport: as the Loop Current lengthens (shortens) its path in the Gulf of Mexico, the flow out of the Gulf decreases (increases). Anomalies in the surface velocity field are first seen to the southwest of Florida and within 4 weeks propagate through the Florida Straits up to Cape Hatteras and into the Gulf Stream Extension. In both the observations and the model this propagation can be seen as pulses in the surface velocities. We estimate that the Loop Current variability can be linked to a variability of several Sverdrups (1Sv = 106 m3 s−1) through the Florida Straits. The exact timing of the Loop Current variability is largely unpredictable beyond a few weeks and its variability is therefore likely a major contributor to the chaotic/intrinsic variability of the Gulf Stream. However, the time lag between the Loop Current and the flow downstream of the Gulf of Mexico means that if a lengthening/shortening of the Loop Current is observed this introduces some predictability in the downstream flow for a few weeks.

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