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

Abstract

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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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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Joël J-M. Hirschi, Peter D. Killworth, and Jeffrey R. Blundell

Abstract

An eddy-permitting numerical ocean model is used to investigate the variability of the meridional overturning circulation (MOC). Both wind stress and fluctuations of the seawater density contribute to MOC changes on subannual and seasonal time scales, whereas the interannual variability mainly reflects changes in the density field. Even on subannual and seasonal time scales, a significant fraction of the total MOC variability is due to changes of the density field in the upper 1000 m of the ocean. These changes reflect perturbations of the isopycnal structure that travel westward as Rossby waves. Because of a temporally changing phase difference between the eastern and western boundaries, the Rossby waves affect the MOC by modifying the basinwide east–west density gradient. Both the numerical model used in this study and calculations based on Rossby wave theory suggest that this effect can account for an MOC variability of several Sverdrups (Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1). These results have implications for the interpretation of variability signals inferred from hydrographic sections and might contribute to the understanding of the results obtained from the Rapid Climate Change (RAPID) monitoring array deployed at 26°N in the North Atlantic Ocean.

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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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Matthew D. Palmer, Alberto C. Naveira Garabato, John D. Stark, Joël J-M. Hirschi, and Jochem Marotzke

Abstract

A regional general circulation model (GCM) of the Indian Ocean is used to investigate the influence of prescribed diapycnal diffusivity (Kd) on quasi-steady states of the meridional overturning circulation (MOC). The model has open boundaries at 35°S and 123°E where velocity, temperature, and salinity are prescribed at each time step. The results suggest that quasi-steady overturning states in the Indian Ocean are reached on centennial time scales. The size and structure of the MOC are controlled by the distribution of Kd and the southern boundary conditions. The distribution of Kd required to support an overturning circulation in the model interior of a magnitude equal to that prescribed at the southern boundary is estimated using a 1D advection–diffusion balance in isopycnal layers. Implementing this approach, 70%–90% of the prescribed deep inflow can be supported in quasi-steady state. Thus one is able to address the systematic discrepancy between past estimates of the deep MOC based on hydrographic sections and those based on GCM results. However, the Kd values required to support a substantial MOC in the model are much larger than current observation-based estimates, particularly for the upper 3000 m. The two estimates of the flow field near 32°S used to force the southern boundary imply a highly nonuniform distribution of Kd, as do recent estimates of Kd based on hydrographic observations. This work highlights the need to improve and implement realistic estimates of (nonuniform) Kd in ocean and coupled ocean–atmosphere GCMs when investigating quasi-equilibrium model states.

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Joël J-M. Hirschi, Peter D. Killworth, Jeffrey R. Blundell, and David Cromwell

Abstract

Numerical models are used to test whether the sea surface height (SSH) can be used as an indicator for the variability of Atlantic meridional oceanic mass transports. The results suggest that if the transports over the western boundary current region and those in the eastern part of the basin are considered separately, significant correlations (0.3–0.9) are found between zonal SSH differences and the meridional transports in the top 1100 m. Much weaker correlations are found for the basinwide transport, which corresponds to the surface branch of the meridional overturning circulation (MOC). For the eastern and western branches of the meridional transport, combining the SSH signal with the baroclinic structure obtained from Rossby wave theory enables calculation of a quantitative estimate of the transport variability in the top 1100 m. The results of the method are less convincing for the variability of the MOC. The reason for this is that even small relative errors in the variability of the eastern and western branches can be large compared with the MOC variability. These errors project onto the sum of the eastern and western transports and therefore onto the surface branch of the MOC. Nevertheless, being able to infer transport anomalies from SSH signals in the eastern and western parts of the Atlantic might prove useful in interpreting MOC observations from the U.K. Natural Environment Research Council Rapid Climate Change (RAPID) mooring array at 26°N, which show a large subannual variability that is mainly due to changes at the western boundary. Transports inferred from the SSH could help to identify the origin of this variability and whether transport anomalies propagate into the western boundary region from the basin interior or from other latitudes.

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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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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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