North Atlantic climate responses to perturbations in Antarctic intermediate water

Recent observations suggest Antarctic Intermediate Water (AAIW) properties are changing. The impact of such variations is explored using idealised perturbation experiments with a coupled climate model, HadCM3. AAIW properties are altered between 10 and 20 degrees S in the South Atlantic, maintaining constant potential density. The perturbed AAIW remains subsurface in the South Atlantic, but as it moves northwards, it surfaces and interacts with the atmosphere leading to density anomalies due to heat exchanges. For a cooler, fresher AAIW, there is a significant decrease in the mean North Atlantic sea surface temperature (SST), of up to 1 degrees C, during years 51-100. In the North Atlantic Current region there are persistent cold anomalies from 2,000 m depth to the surface, and in the overlying atmosphere. Atmospheric surface pressure increases over the mid-latitude Atlantic, and precipitation decreases over northwest Africa and southwest Europe. Surface heat flux anomalies show that these impacts are caused by changes in the ocean rather than atmospheric forcing. The SST response is associated with significant changes in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (MOC). After 50 years there is a decrease in the MOC that persists for the remainder of the simulation, resulting from changes in the column-averaged density difference between 30 degrees S and 60 degrees N. Rather than showing a linear response, a warmer, saltier AAIW also leads to a decreased MOC strength for years 51-100 and resulting cooling in the North Atlantic. The non-linearity can be attributed to opposing density responses as the perturbed water masses interact with the atmosphere.


Authors: Graham, Jennifer A., Stevens, David P., Heywood, Karen J., Wang, Zhaomin

On this site: Zhaomin Wang
1 January, 2011
Climate Dynamics / 37
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