Feedback processes modulating the sensitivity of Atlantic thermohaline circulation to freshwater forcing timescales

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Sciences/Irreversible Climate Change Research Center, Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea
  • 2 Division of Environmental Science and Engineering, Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), Pohang, South Korea.
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Abstract

Paleo proxy records indicate that abrupt changes in thermohaline circulation (THC) were induced by rapid meltwater discharge from retreating ice sheets. Such abrupt changes in the THC have been understood as a hysteresis behavior of nonlinear system. Previous studies, however, primarily focused on a near-static hysteresis under fixed or slowly varying freshwater forcing (FWF), reflecting the equilibrated response of the THC. This study aims to improve the current understanding of transient THC responses under rapidly varying forcing and its dependency on forcing timescales. The results simulated by an Earth system model suggest that the bifurcation is delayed as the forcing timescale is shorter, causing the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation collapse (recovery) to occur at higher (lower) FWF values. The delayed shutdown/recovery occurs because bifurcation is determined not by the FWF value at the time but by the total amount of freshwater remaining over the THC convection region. The remaining freshwater amount is primarily determined by the forcing accumulation (i.e., time-integrated FWF), which is modulated by the freshwater/salt advection by ocean circulations and freshwater flux by the atmospheric hydrological cycle. In general, the latter is overwhelmed by the former. When the forced freshwater amount is the same, the modulation effect is stronger under slowly varying forcing because more time is provided for the feedback processes.

Denotes content that is immediately available upon publication as open access.

Corresponding author: Soon-Il An, sian@yonsei.ac.kr

Abstract

Paleo proxy records indicate that abrupt changes in thermohaline circulation (THC) were induced by rapid meltwater discharge from retreating ice sheets. Such abrupt changes in the THC have been understood as a hysteresis behavior of nonlinear system. Previous studies, however, primarily focused on a near-static hysteresis under fixed or slowly varying freshwater forcing (FWF), reflecting the equilibrated response of the THC. This study aims to improve the current understanding of transient THC responses under rapidly varying forcing and its dependency on forcing timescales. The results simulated by an Earth system model suggest that the bifurcation is delayed as the forcing timescale is shorter, causing the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation collapse (recovery) to occur at higher (lower) FWF values. The delayed shutdown/recovery occurs because bifurcation is determined not by the FWF value at the time but by the total amount of freshwater remaining over the THC convection region. The remaining freshwater amount is primarily determined by the forcing accumulation (i.e., time-integrated FWF), which is modulated by the freshwater/salt advection by ocean circulations and freshwater flux by the atmospheric hydrological cycle. In general, the latter is overwhelmed by the former. When the forced freshwater amount is the same, the modulation effect is stronger under slowly varying forcing because more time is provided for the feedback processes.

Denotes content that is immediately available upon publication as open access.

Corresponding author: Soon-Il An, sian@yonsei.ac.kr
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