The global warming in the North Atlantic Sector and the role of the ocean

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Ralf Hand1, Noel S Keenlyside2, Richard John Greatbatch1 and Nour-Eddine Omrani1, (1)GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Kiel, Germany, (2)Geophysical Institute Bergen, Bergen, Norway
This work presents an analysis of North Atlantic ocean-atmosphere interaction in a warming climate, based on a long-term earth system model experiment forced by the RCP 8.5 scenario, the strongest greenhouse gas forcing used in the climate projections for the 5th Assessement report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). In addition to a global increase in SSTs as a direct response to the radiative forcing, the model shows a distinct change of the local sea surface temperature (SST hereafter) patterns in the Gulf Stream region: The SST front moves northward by several hundred kilometers, likely as a response of the wind-driven part of the oceanic surface circulation, and becomes more zonal. As a consequence of a massive slowdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, the northeast North Atlantic only shows a moderate warming compared to the rest of the ocean. The feedback of these changes on the atmosphere was studied in a set of sensitivity experiments based on the SST climatology of the coupled runs. The set consists of a control run based on the historical run, a run using the full SST from the coupled RCP 8.5 run and two runs, where the SST signal was deconstructed into a homogenous mean warming part and a local pattern change. In the region of the precipitation maximum in the historical run the future scenario shows an increase of absolute SSTs, but a significant decrease in local precipitation, low-level convergence and upward motion. Since warmer SSTs usually cause the opposite, this indicates that the local response in that region is connected to the (with respect to the historical run) weakened SST gradients rather than to the absolute SST. Consistently, the model shows enhanced precipitation north of this region, where the SST gradients are enhanced. However, the signal restricts to the low and mid-troposphere and does not reach the higher model levels. There is little evidence for a large-scale response to the changes in the Gulf Stream region; instead, the large scale signal is mainly controlled by the warmer background state and the AMOC slowdown and influenced by tropical SSTs. In a warmer climate the same change in SST gradient has a stronger effect on precipitation and the model produces a slightly enhanced North Atlantic storm track.