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Malte F. Jansen

Abstract

Theoretical arguments are developed to derive general properties of the ocean circulation in a “snowball” world, and the predictions are confirmed in a series of idealized numerical simulations. As suggested previously, a turbulent flow is driven by geothermal heating at the seafloor, which is balanced by a similar heat loss through the ice sheet above. It is argued that the expected horizontal inhomogeneities in these heat fluxes are sufficient to generate baroclinic instability, which drives geostrophic turbulence. Turbulent eddies then transport heat upward and poleward along isolines of constant density, thereby maintaining a statically stable stratification, contrary to previous findings from numerical models that do not adequately resolve the geostrophic turbulence. The kinetic energy of the turbulent flow is expected to be controlled by a balance between the potential energy input by the diabatic forcing and frictional dissipation in the bottom boundary layer. The resulting characteristic flow speed is estimated to be on the order of 1 cm s−1, which is in agreement with previous numerical simulations. Eddy diffusivities are estimated to be on the order of 100 m2 s−1, which is smaller than in the present-day ocean but probably within one order of magnitude. Because of the weak forcing, the resulting gradients of temperature and salinity would be much smaller than in the present-day ocean, with global-scale potential temperature variations on the order of 0.1 K, again in agreement with previous numerical simulations. The presented theoretical arguments may also be relevant to other planetary bodies with an ice-covered ocean.

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Hailu Kong and Malte F. Jansen

Abstract

It remains uncertain how the Southern Ocean circulation responds to changes in surface wind stress, and whether coarse-resolution simulations, where mesoscale eddy fluxes are parameterized, can adequately capture the response. We address this problem using two idealized model setups mimicking the Southern Ocean: a flat-bottom channel and a channel with moderately complex topography. Under each topographic configuration and varying wind stress, we compare several coarse-resolution simulations, configured with different eddy parameterizations, against an eddy-resolving simulation. We find that 1) without topography, sensitivity of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) to wind stress is overestimated by coarse-resolution simulations, due to an underestimate of the sensitivity of the eddy diffusivity; 2) in the presence of topography, stationary eddies dominate over transient eddies in counteracting the direct response of the ACC and overturning circulation to wind stress changes; and 3) coarse-resolution simulations with parameterized eddies capture this counteracting effect reasonably well, largely due to their ability to resolve stationary eddies. Our results highlight the importance of topography in modulating the response of the Southern Ocean circulation to changes in surface wind stress. The interaction between mesoscale eddies and stationary meanders induced by topography requires more attention in future development and testing of eddy parameterizations.

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Louis-Philippe Nadeau and Malte F. Jansen

Abstract

A toy model for the deep ocean overturning circulation in multiple basins is presented and applied to study the role of buoyancy forcing and basin geometry in the ocean’s global overturning. The model reproduces the results from idealized general circulation model simulations and provides theoretical insights into the mechanisms that govern the structure of the overturning circulation. The results highlight the importance of the diabatic component of the meridional overturning circulation (MOC) for the depth of North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) and for the interbasin exchange of deep ocean water masses. This diabatic component, which extends the upper cell in the Atlantic below the depth of adiabatic upwelling in the Southern Ocean, is shown to be sensitive to the global area-integrated diapycnal mixing rate and the density contrast between NADW and Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW). The model also shows that the zonally averaged global overturning circulation is to zeroth-order independent of whether the ocean consists of one or multiple connected basins, but depends on the total length of the southern reentrant channel region (representing the Southern Ocean) and the global ocean area integrated diapycnal mixing. Common biases in single-basin simulations can thus be understood as a direct result of the reduced domain size.

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Malte F. Jansen, Dietmar Dommenget, and Noel Keenlyside

Abstract

Statistical analysis of observations (including atmospheric reanalysis and forced ocean model simulations) is used to address two questions: First, does an analogous mechanism to that of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) exist in the equatorial Atlantic or Indian Ocean? Second, does the intrinsic variability in these basins matter for ENSO predictability? These questions are addressed by assessing the existence and strength of the Bjerknes and delayed negative feedbacks in each tropical basin, and by fitting conceptual recharge oscillator models, both with and without interactions among the basins.

In the equatorial Atlantic the Bjerknes and delayed negative feedbacks exist, although weaker than in the Pacific. Equatorial Atlantic variability is well described by the recharge oscillator model, with an oscillatory mixed ocean dynamics–sea surface temperature (SST) mode present in boreal spring and summer. The dynamics of the tropical Indian Ocean, however, appear to be quite different: no recharge–discharge mechanism is found. Although a positive Bjerknes-like feedback from July to September is found, the role of heat content seems secondary.

Results also show that Indian Ocean interaction with ENSO tends to damp the ENSO oscillation and is responsible for a frequency shift to shorter periods. However, the retrospective forecast skill of the conceptual model is hardly improved by explicitly including Indian Ocean SST. The interaction between ENSO and the equatorial Atlantic variability is weaker. However, a feedback from the Atlantic on ENSO appears to exist, which slightly improves the retrospective forecast skill of the conceptual model.

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Malte F. Jansen and Louis-Philippe Nadeau

Abstract

The deep-ocean circulation and stratification have likely undergone major changes during past climates, which may have played an important role in the modulation of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. The mechanisms by which the deep-ocean circulation changed, however, are still poorly understood and represent a major challenge to the understanding of past and future climates. This study highlights the importance of the integrated buoyancy loss rate around Antarctica in modulating the abyssal circulation and stratification. Theoretical arguments and idealized numerical simulations suggest that enhanced buoyancy loss around Antarctica leads to a strong increase in the abyssal stratification, consistent with proxy observations for the last glacial maximum. Enhanced buoyancy loss moreover leads to a contraction of the middepth overturning cell and thus upward shift of North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW). The abyssal overturning cell initially expands to fill the void. However, if the buoyancy loss rate further increases, the abyssal cell also contracts, leaving a “dead zone” with vanishing meridional flow at middepth.

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Louis-Philippe Nadeau, Raffaele Ferrari, and Malte F. Jansen

Abstract

Changes in deep-ocean circulation and stratification have been argued to contribute to climatic shifts between glacial and interglacial climates by affecting the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. It has been recently proposed that such changes are associated with variations in Antarctic sea ice through two possible mechanisms: an increased latitudinal extent of Antarctic sea ice and an increased rate of Antarctic sea ice formation. Both mechanisms lead to an upward shift of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) above depths where diapycnal mixing is strong (above 2000 m), thus decoupling the AMOC from the abyssal overturning circulation. Here, these two hypotheses are tested using a series of idealized two-basin ocean simulations. To investigate independently the effect of an increased latitudinal ice extent from the effect of an increased ice formation rate, sea ice is parameterized as a latitude strip over which the buoyancy flux is negative. The results suggest that both mechanisms can effectively decouple the two cells of the meridional overturning circulation (MOC), and that their effects are additive. To illustrate the role of Antarctic sea ice in decoupling the AMOC and the abyssal overturning cell, the age of deep-water masses is estimated. An increase in both the sea ice extent and its formation rate yields a dramatic “aging” of deep-water masses if the sea ice is thick and acts as a lid, suppressing air–sea fluxes. The key role of vertical mixing is highlighted by comparing results using different profiles of vertical diffusivity. The implications of an increase in water mass ages for storing carbon in the deep ocean are discussed.

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Malte F. Jansen, Louis-Philippe Nadeau, and Timothy M. Merlis

Abstract

Much of the existing theory for the ocean’s overturning circulation considers steady-state equilibrium solutions. However, Earth’s climate is not in a steady state, and a better understanding of the ocean’s nonequilibrium response to changes in the surface climate is urgently needed. Here, the time-dependent response of the deep-ocean overturning circulation to atmospheric warming is examined using a hierarchy of idealized ocean models. The transient response to surface warming is characterized by a shoaling and weakening of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC)—consistent with results from coupled climate simulations. The initial shoaling and weakening of the AMOC occurs on decadal time scales and is attributed to a rapid warming of northern-sourced deep water. The equilibrium response to warming, in contrast, is associated with a deepening and strengthening of the AMOC. The eventual deepening of the AMOC is argued to be associated with abyssal density changes and driven by modified surface fluxes in the Southern Ocean, following a reduction of the Antarctic sea ice cover. Full equilibration of the AMOC requires a diffusive adjustment of the abyss and takes many millennia. The equilibration time scale is much longer than most coupled climate model simulations, highlighting the importance of considering integration time and initial conditions when interpreting the deep-ocean circulation in climate models. The results also show that past climates are unlikely to be an adequate analog for changes in the overturning circulation during the coming decades or centuries.

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