An atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM), a simplified atmospheric model (SAM) of surface heat flux, and various idealized analytic models have been used to investigate the atmospheric response over the North Atlantic to SST anomalies including a general cooling associated with a weakened thermohaline circulation. Latent heating dominates the surface heat flux response, while sensible heating plays an important secondary role. The total heat flux response is weaker than presumed in recent studies using ocean models under highly idealized surface boundary conditions. This implies that stability of the thermohaline circulation to high-latitude freshening in more sophisticated coupled systems (that incorporate either AGCMs or models like SAM) will be increased.
All three kinds of atmospheric models exhibit nonrestorative behavior away from the anomaly peak that is primarily associated with the advection of cooled air eastward. This simple picture is complicated in the AGCM by the fact that the winds weaken over the SST anomaly, which helps to moderate the response.
Analytic models for atmospheric temperature forced using imposed surface temperature anomalies highlight conditions under which a nonrestorative response can arise. Previous work has shown that the length scale of spatially periodic anomalies partially determines the magnitude of the response in a diffusive atmosphere. Here the authors show that this scale dependence has much wider applicability by considering more localized anomalies and by the inclusion of advective transport processes.
The modification of the response by sea ice changes and the absence of any statistically significant change in the basin-averaged hydrological cycle are also discussed.