Stronger Ocean Meridinal Heat Transport with a Weaker Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation?

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Florian Sevellec, University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom and Alexey V Fedorov, Yale Univ, New Haven, CT, United States
It is typically assumed that oceanic heat transport is well and positively correlated with the Atlantic Meridional Ocean Circulation (AMOC). In numerical "water-hosing" experiments, for example, imposing an anomalous freshwater flux in the northern hemisphere leads to a slow-down of the AMOC and a corresponding reduction of the northward heat transport. Here, we study the sensitivity of the heat transport to surface freshwater fluxes using a generalized stability analysis and find that, while the direct relationship between the AMOC and heat transport holds on shorter time scales, it completely reverses on timescales longer than ~500 yr. That is, a reduction in the AMOC volume transport can actually lead to a stronger heat transport on those long timescales, which results from the gradual increase in ocean thermal stratification. We discuss the implications of these results for the problem of steady state (statistically equilibrium) in ocean and climate GCM as well as various paleoclimate problems such as millennial climate variability and the maintenance of equable climate states.