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View: Abstract

Mechanisms controlling the sensitivity of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation to the parameterization of eddy transports in an ocean GCM

Kamenkovich, I.V., and E.S. Sarachik. 2004. Mechanisms controlling the sensitivity of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation to the parameterization of eddy transports in an ocean GCM. Journal of Physical Oceanography 34:1628-1647.


The authors identify and describe the important dynamical mechanisms that explain the significant sensitivity of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation to the parameterization of heat and salt transports by mesoscale eddies in numerical models. In particular, the effects of the Gent-McWilliams (GM) scheme, which has a strong flattening effect on isopycnals, and a simple horizontal diffusion scheme are considered and compared.

Two control runs, one with each scheme, exhibit very different circulations and density structures. To analyze the dynamical reasons for the differences between the control runs, a number of numerical experiments with regionally varying diffusion coefficients are carried out, emphasizing the effects of different schemes in key regions. The main effect of eddies in the Southern Ocean in nature is to shoal the subsurface isopycnal surfaces, thus increasing the density of the northward inflow of relatively dense intermediate waters into the Atlantic-as will be seen, this is more effectively done by the GM parameterization of the eddies. The resulting increase in the subsurface density at low latitudes decreases the meridional density contrast with the high latitudes of the North Atlantic, shoals the pycnocline, and consequently weakens the meridional overturning.

By contrast, the effect of the eddy transports in the western boundary current in the Northern Hemisphere on the strength of the North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) formation is shown to be smaller. The Northern Hemisphere upwelling and horizontal flow structure is strongly affected by local eddy transports, and the outflow of the NADW is very sensitive to the Northern Hemisphere eddy transports as a result. The original scaling of Gnanadesikan is modified to include the effects of horizontal mixing in low latitudes. The results confirm the leading role of the Southern Ocean eddies in affecting the strength of NADW formation, while the Northern Hemisphere horizontal mixing mostly affects local upwelling. The eddy transports in the Southern Ocean also affect the properties of Antarctic Bottom Water, which influences the vertical penetration of the NADW overturning cell as well as the density of the deep ocean.