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The relation of meridional pressure gradients to North Atlantic deep water volume transport in an ocean general circulation model

Griesel, Alexa; Maqueda, Miguel Angel Morales. 2006 The relation of meridional pressure gradients to North Atlantic deep water volume transport in an ocean general circulation model. Climate Dynamics, 26 (7-8). 781-799. 10.1007/s00382-006-0122-z

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Abstract/Summary

We use a coarse resolution ocean general circulation model to study the relation between meridional pressure and density gradients in the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic and the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. In several experiments, we artificially modify the meridional density gradients by applying different magnitudes of the Gent–McWilliams isopycnal eddy diffusion coefficients in the Southern Ocean and in the North Atlantic and investigate the response of the simulated Atlantic meridional overturning to such changes. The simulations are carried out close to the limit of no diapycnal mixing, with a very small explicit vertical diffusivity and a tracer advection scheme with very low implicit diffusivities. Our results reveal that changes in eddy diffusivities in the North Atlantic affect the maximum of the Atlantic meridional overturning, but not the outflow of North Atlantic Deep Water into the Southern Ocean. In contrast, changes in eddy diffusivities in the Southern Ocean affect both the South Atlantic outflow of North Atlantic Deep Water and the maximum of the Atlantic meridional overturning. Results from these experiments are used to investigate the relation between meridional pressure gradients and the components of the Atlantic meridional overturning. Pressure gradients and overturning are found to be linearly related. We show that, in our simulations, zonally averaged deep pressure gradients are very weak between 20°S and about 30°N and that between 30°N and 60°N the zonally averaged pressure grows approximately linearly with latitude. This pressure difference balances a westward geostrophic flow at 30–40°N that feeds the southbound deep Atlantic western boundary current. We extend our analysis to a large variety of experiments in which surface freshwater forcing, vertical mixing and winds are modified. In all experiments, the pycnocline depth, assumed to be the relevant vertical scale for the northward volume transport in the Atlantic, is found to be approximately constant, at least within the coarse vertical resolution of the model. The model behaviour hence cannot directly be related to conceptual models in which changes in the pycnocline depth determine the strength of Atlantic meridional flow, and seems conceptually closer to Stommel’s box model. In all our simulations, the Atlantic overturning seems to be mainly driven by Southern Ocean westerlies. However, the actual strength of the Atlantic meridional overturning is not determined solely by the Southern Ocean wind stress but as well by the density/pressure gradients created between the deep water formation regions in the North Atlantic and the inflow/outflow region in the South Atlantic.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.1007/s00382-006-0122-z
Programmes: POL Programmes
ISSN: 0930-7575
NORA Subject Terms: Marine Sciences
Date made live: 19 Sep 2012 10:45
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/19630

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