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Birgit Schneider, M. Latif, and Andreas Schmittner

Abstract

Climate models predict a gradual weakening of the North Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (MOC) during the twenty-first century due to increasing levels of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Using an ensemble of 16 different coupled climate models performed for the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the evolution of the MOC during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is analyzed by combining model simulations for the IPCC scenarios Twentieth-Century Climate in Coupled Models (20C3M) and Special Report on Emission Scenarios, A1B (SRESA1B). Earlier findings are confirmed that even for the same forcing scenario the model response is spread over a large range. However, no model predicts abrupt changes or a total collapse of the MOC. To reduce the uncertainty of the projections, different weighting procedures are applied to obtain “best estimates” of the future MOC evolution, considering the skill of each model to represent present day hydrographic fields of temperature, salinity, and pycnocline depth as well as observation-based mass transport estimates. Using different methods of weighting the various models together, all produce estimates that the MOC will weaken by 25%–30% from present day values by the year 2100; however, absolute values of the MOC and the degree of reduction differ among the weighting methods.

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Tilla Roy, Laurent Bopp, Marion Gehlen, Birgit Schneider, Patricia Cadule, Thomas L. Frölicher, Joachim Segschneider, Jerry Tjiputra, Christoph Heinze, and Fortunat Joos
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Tilla Roy, Laurent Bopp, Marion Gehlen, Birgit Schneider, Patricia Cadule, Thomas L. Frölicher, Joachim Segschneider, Jerry Tjiputra, Christoph Heinze, and Fortunat Joos

Abstract

The increase in atmospheric CO2 over this century depends on the evolution of the oceanic air–sea CO2 uptake, which will be driven by the combined response to rising atmospheric CO2 itself and climate change. Here, the future oceanic CO2 uptake is simulated using an ensemble of coupled climate–carbon cycle models. The models are driven by CO2 emissions from historical data and the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) A2 high-emission scenario. A linear feedback analysis successfully separates the regional future (2010–2100) oceanic CO2 uptake into a CO2-induced component, due to rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and a climate-induced component, due to global warming. The models capture the observation-based magnitude and distribution of anthropogenic CO2 uptake. The distributions of the climate-induced component are broadly consistent between the models, with reduced CO2 uptake in the subpolar Southern Ocean and the equatorial regions, owing to decreased CO2 solubility; and reduced CO2 uptake in the midlatitudes, owing to decreased CO2 solubility and increased vertical stratification. The magnitude of the climate-induced component is sensitive to local warming in the southern extratropics, to large freshwater fluxes in the extratropical North Atlantic Ocean, and to small changes in the CO2 solubility in the equatorial regions. In key anthropogenic CO2 uptake regions, the climate-induced component offsets the CO2-induced component at a constant proportion up until the end of this century. This amounts to approximately 50% in the northern extratropics and 25% in the southern extratropics and equatorial regions. Consequently, the detection of climate change impacts on anthropogenic CO2 uptake may be difficult without monitoring additional tracers, such as oxygen.

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