Enhanced deep ocean ventilation and oxygenation with global warming

Monday, 15 December 2014
Thomas L Froelicher1, Sam Jaccard2, John P Dunne3, David Paynter3 and Nicolas Gruber1, (1)ETH Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, (2)University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland, (3)NOAA Geophys Fluid Dynamic, Princeton, NJ, United States
Twenty-first century coupled climate model simulations, observations from the recent past, and theoretical arguments suggest a consistent trend towards warmer ocean temperatures and fresher polar surface oceans in response to increased radiative forcing resulting in increased upper ocean stratification and reduced ventilation and oxygenation of the deep ocean. Paleo-proxy records of the warming at the end of the last ice age, however, suggests a different outcome, namely a better ventilated and oxygenated deep ocean with global warming.

Here we use a four thousand year global warming simulation from a comprehensive Earth System Model (GFDL ESM2M) to show that this conundrum is a consequence of different rates of warming and that the deep ocean is actually better ventilated and oxygenated in a future warmer equilibrated climate consistent with paleo-proxy records. The enhanced deep ocean ventilation in the Southern Ocean occurs in spite of increased positive surface buoyancy fluxes and a constancy of the Southern Hemisphere westerly winds – circumstances that would otherwise be expected to lead to a reduction in deep ocean ventilation. This ventilation recovery occurs through a global scale interaction of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation undergoing a multi-centennial recovery after an initial century of transient decrease and transports salinity-rich waters inform the subtropical surface ocean to the Southern Ocean interior on multi-century timescales. The subsequent upwelling of salinity-rich waters in the Southern Ocean strips away the freshwater cap that maintains vertical stability and increases open ocean convection and the formation of Antarctic Bottom Waters. As a result, the global ocean oxygen content and the nutrient supply from the deep ocean to the surface are higher in a warmer ocean. The implications for past and future changes in ocean heat and carbon storage will be discussed.