Causes of the 2015 North Atlantic cold anomaly in a global state estimate

The subpolar North Atlantic is an important part of the global ocean and climate system, with SST variability in the region influencing the climate of Europe and North America. While the majority of the global ocean exhibited higher than average surface temperatures in 2015, the subpolar North Atlantic experienced record low temperatures. This interannual cold anomaly is thought to have been driven by surface forcing, but detailed questions remain about how the anomaly was created and maintained. To better quantify and understand the processes responsible for the cold anomaly, we computed mixed-layer temperature budgets in the Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (ECCO) Version 4 global ocean state estimate. State estimates have been brought into consistency with a large suite of observations without using artificial sources or sinks of heat, making them ideal for temperature budget studies. We found that strong surface forcing drove approximately 75 % of the initial anomalies in the cooling of the mixed layer in December 2013, while horizontal advection drove the remaining 25 %. The cold anomaly was then sequestered beneath the mixed layer. Re-emergence of the cold anomaly during the summer and autumn of 2014 was primarily the result of a strong temperature gradient across the base of the mixed layer, with vertical diffusion accounting for approximately 70 % of the re-emergence. Weaker surface warming of the mixed layer during the summer of 2015 enhanced the anomaly, causing a temperature minimum. Spatial patterns in the budgets also show large differences between the north and south of the anomaly region, with particularly strong initial surface cooling in the south related to the positive phase of the East Atlantic Pattern. It is important to note that this interannual cold anomaly, which is thought to be primarily driven by surface forcing, is distinct from the multi-decadal North Atlantic “warming hole”, which has been associated with changes in advection.


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Authors: Sanders, Rachael N.C. ORCIDORCID record for Rachael N.C. Sanders, Jones, Daniel C. ORCIDORCID record for Daniel C. Jones, Josey, Simon A. ORCIDORCID record for Simon A. Josey, Sinha, Bablu, Forget, Gael

On this site: Dani Jones, Rachael Sanders
6 July, 2022
Ocean Science / 18
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