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Stephen Yeager

Abstract

The vorticity dynamics associated with the mean and time-varying gyre and overturning circulations of the Atlantic Ocean are examined in a realistic ocean model hindcast simulation of the late twentieth century. Abyssal flow interaction with sloping bottom bathymetry gives rise to the bottom pressure torque (BPT) term of the vertically integrated vorticity equation. The dominance of this term in the closure of the barotropic gyre circulation noted in previous studies is corroborated here for both non-eddy-resolving and eddy-resolving versions of the Parallel Ocean Program (POP) model. This study shows that BPT is also a dominant term in the vorticity balance of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) and therefore represents a key dynamical link between the overturning and gyre streamfunctions. The interannual variability of the Atlantic circulation over the last several decades, viewed in terms of time-varying integral vorticity balances, demonstrates the fundamental role played by BPT in coupling the large-scale barotropic and baroclinic flows. Forcing perturbation experiments show how flow–bathymetry interactions mediate buoyancy-driven changes in the gyre circulation and momentum-driven changes in the AMOC. Examples of topographic coupling of the overturning and gyre circulations that this analysis elucidates include the covariation of the high-latitude AMOC and subpolar gyre flows on decadal time scales, buoyancy-forced variance of the Gulf Stream, and large wind-driven variations in AMOC at subtropical latitudes.

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Stephen Yeager
and
Gokhan Danabasoglu

Abstract

The inclusion of parameterized Nordic Sea overflows in the ocean component of the Community Climate System Model version 4 (CCSM4) results in a much improved representation of the North Atlantic tracer and velocity distributions compared to a control CCSM4 simulation without this parameterization. As a consequence, the variability of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) on decadal and longer time scales is generally lower, but the reduction is not uniform in latitude, depth, or frequency–space. While there is dramatically less variance in the overall AMOC maximum (at about 35°N), the reduction in AMOC variance at higher latitudes is more modest. Also, it is somewhat enhanced in the deep ocean and at low latitudes (south of about 30°N). The complexity of overturning response to overflows is related to the fact that, in both simulations, the AMOC spectrum varies substantially with latitude and depth, reflecting a variety of driving mechanisms that are impacted in different ways by the overflows. The usefulness of reducing AMOC to a single index is thus called into question. This study identifies two main improvements in the ocean mean state associated with the overflow parameterization that tend to damp AMOC variability: enhanced stratification in the Labrador Sea due to the injection of dense overflow waters and a deepening of the deep western boundary current. Direct driving of deep AMOC variance by overflow transport variations is found to be a second-order effect.

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Stephen Yeager
and
Gokhan Danabasoglu

Abstract

Surface forcing perturbation experiments are examined to identify the key forcing elements associated with late-twentieth-century interannual-to-decadal Atlantic circulation variability as simulated in an ocean–sea ice hindcast configuration of the Community Earth System Model, version 1 (CESM1). Buoyancy forcing accounts for most of the decadal variability in both the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) and the subpolar gyre circulation, and the key drivers of these basin-scale circulation changes are found to be the turbulent buoyancy fluxes: evaporation as well as the latent and sensible heat fluxes. These three fluxes account for almost all of the decadal AMOC variability in the North Atlantic, even when applied only over the Labrador Sea region. Year-to-year changes in surface momentum forcing explain most of the interannual AMOC variability at all latitudes as well as most of the decadal variability south of the equator. The observed strengthening of Southern Ocean westerly winds accounts for much of the simulated AMOC variability between 30°S and the equator but very little of the recent AMOC change in the North Atlantic. Ultimately, the strengthening of the North Atlantic overturning circulation between the 1970s and 1990s, which contributed to a pronounced SST increase at subpolar latitudes, is explained almost entirely by trends in the atmospheric surface state over the Labrador Sea.

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Who M. Kim
,
Stephen Yeager
, and
Gokhan Danabasoglu

Abstract

The sea surface temperature (SST) signature of Atlantic multidecadal variability (AMV) is a key driver of climate variability in surrounding regions. Low-frequency Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) variability is often invoked as a key driving mechanism of AMV-related SST anomalies. However, the origins of both AMV and multidecadal AMOC variability remain areas of active research and debate. Here, using coupled ensemble experiments designed to isolate the climate response to buoyancy forcing associated with the North Atlantic Oscillation in the Labrador Sea, we show that ocean dynamical changes are the essential drivers of AMV and related climate impacts. Atmospheric teleconnections also play an important role in rendering the full AMV pattern by transmitting the ocean-driven subpolar SST signal into the rest of the basin, including the tropical North Atlantic. As such, the atmosphere response to the tropical AMV in our experiments is limited to a relatively small area in the Atlantic sector in summertime, suggesting that it could be overestimated in widely adopted protocols for AMV pacemaker experiments.

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Stephen G. Yeager
and
William G. Large

Abstract

Temperature and salinity (TS) profiles from the global array of Argo floats support the existence of spice-formation regions in the subtropics of each ocean basin where large, destabilizing vertical salinity gradients coincide with weak stratification in winter. In these characteristic regions, convective boundary layer mixing generates a strongly density-compensated (SDC) layer at the base of the well-mixed layer. The degree of density compensation of the TS gradients of an upper-ocean water column is quantified using a bulk vertical Turner angle (Tu b ) between the surface and upper pycnocline. The winter generation of the SDC layer in spice-formation zones is clearly seen in Argo data as a large-amplitude seasonal cycle of Tu b in regions of the subtropical oceans characterized by high mean Tu b . In formation regions, Argo floats provide ample evidence of large, abrupt spice injection (TS increase on subducted isopycnals due to vertical mixing) associated with the winter increase in Tu b . A simple conceptual model of the spice-injection mechanism is presented that is based on known behavior of convective boundary layers and supported by numerical model results. It suggests that penetrative convective mixing of a partially density-compensated water column will enhance the Turner angle within a transition layer between the mixed layer and the upper pycnocline, generating seasonal TS increases on density surfaces below the mixed layer. Observations are consistent with this hypothesis. In OGCMs, regions showing high Tu b mean and seasonal amplitude are also the sources of significant interannual spice variability in the permanent pycnocline. Decadal changes in the North Pacific of a model hindcast simulation show qualitative resemblance to the observed multiyear time series from the Hawaii Ocean Time series (HOT) station ALOHA. Modeled pycnocline variations near Hawaii can be linked to high Tu b seasonality and winter spice injection within a formation region upstream of ALOHA, suggesting that spice injection may explain the origins of observed large, interannual variations on isopycnals in the ocean interior.

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Stephen G. Yeager
and
William G. Large

Abstract

The origins of density-compensating anomalies of temperature and salinity (spice) are investigated using a model forced with the most realistic surface products available over the 40 years 1958–97. In this hindcast, the largest interannual spiciness anomalies are found in the Pacific Ocean near the isopycnal σ 0 = 25.5, where deviations as great as 1.2°C and 0.6 psu are generated equatorward of winter outcropping in the eastern subtropics in both hemispheres. These source regions are characterized by very unstable salinity gradients and low mean density stratification in winter. Two related signatures of winter mixing in the southeast Pacific (SEP) are density that is well mixed deeper than either temperature or salinity and subsurface density ratios that approach 1. All ocean basins in the model are shown to have regions with these characteristics and signatures; however, the resultant spiciness signals are focused on different isopycnals ranging from σ 0 = 25.0 in the northeast Pacific to σ 0 = 26.5 in the south Indian Ocean. A detailed examination of the SEP finds that large positive anomalies are generated by diapycnal mixing across subducted isopycnals (e.g., σ 0 = 25.5), whereas negative anomalies are the result of a steady isopycnal advection, moderated by vertical advection and heave. There is considerable interannual variability in the strength of anomalies and in the density on which they occur. Historical observations are consistent with the model results but are insufficient to verify all aspects of the hindcast, including the processes of anomaly generation in the SEP. It was not possible to relate isopycnal anomaly genesis to local surface forcing of any kind. A complex scenario involving basinwide circulation of both the ocean and atmosphere, especially of surface water through the subtropical evaporation zones, is put forward to explain the decadal time scale evident in SEP salinity anomalies on σ 0 = 25.5. Pacific anomalies generated on σ 0 = 25.5 can be traced along mean geostrophic streamlines to the western boundary, where decadal salinity variations at ≈7°S are about 2 times as large (order ±0.1 psu) as at ≈12°N, although there may be more variance on shallower isopycnals in the north. At least portions of the σ 0 = 25.5 signals appear to continue along the boundary to a convergence at the equator, suggesting that the most robust sources of Pacific spiciness variance coincide with equatorial exchange pathways.

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Who M. Kim
,
Stephen Yeager
, and
Gokhan Danabasoglu

Abstract

The Great Salinity Anomaly (GSA) of the 1970s is the most pronounced decadal-scale low-salinity event observed in the subpolar North Atlantic (SPNA). Using various simulations with the Community Earth System Model, here we offer an alternative view on some aspects of the GSA. Specifically, we examine the relative roles of reduced surface heat flux associated with the negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and extreme Fram Strait sea ice export (FSSIE) in the late 1960s as possible drivers of the shutdown of Labrador Sea (LS) deep convection. Through composite analysis of a long control simulation, the individual oceanic impacts of extreme FSSIE and surface heat flux events in the LS are isolated. A dominant role for the surface heat flux events for the suppression of convection and freshening in the interior LS is found, while the FSSIE events play a surprisingly minor role. The interior freshening results from reduced mixing of fresher upper ocean with saltier deep ocean. In addition, we find that the downstream propagation of the freshwater anomaly across the SPNA is potentially induced by the persistent negative NAO forcing in the 1960s through an adjustment of thermohaline circulation, with the extreme FSSIE-induced low-salinity anomaly mostly remaining in the boundary currents in the western SPNA. Our results suggest a prominent driving role of the NAO-related heat flux forcing for key aspects of the observed GSA, including the shutdown of LS convection and transbasin propagation of low-salinity waters.

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Who M. Kim
,
Stephen Yeager
,
Ping Chang
, and
Gokhan Danabasoglu

Abstract

Deep convection in the Labrador Sea (LS) resumed in the winter of 2007/08 under a moderately positive North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) state. This is in sharp contrast with the previous winter with weak convection, despite a similar positive NAO state. This disparity is explored here by analyzing reanalysis data and forced-ocean simulations. It is found that the difference in deep convection is primarily due to differences in large-scale atmospheric conditions that are not accounted for by the conventional NAO definition. Specifically, the 2007/08 winter was characterized by an atmospheric circulation anomaly centered in the western North Atlantic, rather than the eastern North Atlantic that the conventional NAO emphasizes. This anomalous circulation was also accompanied by anomalously cold conditions over northern North America. The controlling influence of these atmospheric conditions on LS deep convection in the 2008 winter is confirmed by sensitivity experiments where surface forcing and/or initial conditions are modified. An extended analysis for the 1949–2009 period shows that about half of the winters with strong heat losses in the LS are associated with such a west-centered circulation anomaly and cold conditions over northern North America. These are found to be accompanied by La Niña–like conditions in the tropical Pacific, suggesting that the atmospheric response to La Niña may have a strong influence on LS deep convection.

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Who M. Kim
,
Stephen Yeager
,
Ping Chang
, and
Gokhan Danabasoglu

Abstract

There is observational and modeling evidence that low-frequency variability in the North Atlantic has significant implications for the global climate, particularly for the climate of the Northern Hemisphere. This study explores the representation of low-frequency variability in the Atlantic region in historical large ensemble and preindustrial control simulations performed with the Community Earth System Model (CESM). Compared to available observational estimates, it is found that the simulated variability in Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), North Atlantic sea surface temperature (NASST), and Sahel rainfall is underestimated on multidecadal time scales but comparable on interannual to decadal time scales. The weak multidecadal North Atlantic variability appears to be closely related to weaker-than-observed multidecadal variations in the simulated North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), as the AMOC and consequent NASST variability is impacted, to a great degree, by the NAO. Possible reasons for this weak multidecadal NAO variability are explored with reference to solutions from two atmosphere-only simulations with different lower boundary conditions and vertical resolution. Both simulations consistently reveal weaker-than-observed multidecadal NAO variability despite more realistic boundary conditions and better resolved dynamics than coupled simulations. The authors thus conjecture that the weak multidecadal NAO variability in CESM is likely due to deficiencies in air–sea coupling, resulting from shortcomings in the atmospheric model or coupling details.

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Gokhan Danabasoglu
,
Laura Landrum
,
Stephen G. Yeager
, and
Peter R. Gent

Abstract

Robust and nonrobust aspects of Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) variability and mechanisms are analyzed in several 600-yr simulations with the Community Earth System Model. The simulations consist of a set of cases where a few loosely constrained ocean model parameter values are changed, a pair of cases where round-off level perturbations are applied to the initial atmospheric temperature field, and a millennium-scale integration. The time scales of variability differ among the cases with the dominant periods ranging from decadal to centennial. These dominant periods are not stationary in time, indicating that a robust characterization of AMOC temporal variability requires long, multimillennium-scale simulations. A robust aspect is that positive anomalies of the Labrador Sea (LS) upper-ocean density and boundary layer depth and the positive phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation lead AMOC strengthening by 2–3 years. Respective contributions of temperature and salinity to these density anomalies vary across the simulations, but in a majority of the cases temperature contributions dominate. Following an AMOC intensification, all cases show that advection of warm and salty waters into the LS region results in near-neutral density anomalies. Analysis of the LS heat budget indicates that temperature acts to increase density in all cases prior to an AMOC intensification, primarily due to losses by sensible and latent heat fluxes. The accompanying salt budget analysis reveals that the salt contribution to density anomalies varies across the cases, taking both positive and negative values.

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