Multidecadal Thermohaline Circulation Variability Driven by Atmospheric Surface Flux Forcing

Thomas L. Delworth, Richard J. Greatbatch
2000 Journal of Climate  
Previous analyses of an extended integration of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory coupled climate model have revealed pronounced multidecadal variations of the thermohaline circulation (THC) in the North Atlantic. The purpose of the current work is to assess whether those fluctuations can be viewed as a coupled air-sea mode (in the sense of ENSO), or as an oceanic response to forcing from the atmosphere model, in which large-scale feedbacks from the ocean to the atmospheric circulation
more » ... re not critical. A series of integrations using the ocean component of the coupled model are performed to address the above question. The ocean model is forced by suitably chosen time series of surface fluxes from either the coupled model or a companion integration of an atmosphere-only model run with a prescribed seasonal cycle of SSTs and sea-ice thickness. These experiments reveal that 1) the previously identified multidecadal THC variations can be largely viewed as an oceanic response to surface flux forcing from the atmosphere model, although airsea coupling through the thermodynamics appears to modify the amplitude of the variability, and 2) variations in heat flux are the dominant term (relative to the freshwater and momentum fluxes) in driving the THC variability. Experiments driving the ocean model using either high-or low-pass-filtered heat fluxes, with a cutoff period of 20 yr, show that the multidecadal THC variability is driven by the low-frequency portion of the spectrum of atmospheric flux forcing. Analyses have also revealed that the multidecadal THC fluctuations are driven by a spatial pattern of surface heat flux variations that bears a strong resemblance to the North Atlantic oscillation. No conclusive evidence is found that the THC variability is part of a dynamically coupled mode of the atmosphere and ocean models.
doi:10.1175/1520-0442(2000)013<1481:mtcvdb>;2 fatcat:dp5rba7xljczhb2twye4dlvsy4