The key role of the western boundary in linking the AMOC strength to the north-south pressure gradient
Sijp, W. P., Gregory, J. M., Tailleux, R. and Spence, P. (2012) The key role of the western boundary in linking the AMOC strength to the north-south pressure gradient. Journal of Physical Oceanography, 42 (4). pp. 628-643. ISSN 1520-0485
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1175/JPO-D-11-0113.1
A key idea in the study of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) is that its strength is proportional to the meridional density gradient, or more precisely, to the strength of the meridional pressure gradient. A physical basis that would tell us how to estimate the relevant meridional pressure gradient locally from the density distribution in numerical ocean models to test such an idea, has been lacking however. Recently, studies of ocean energetics have suggested that the AMOC is driven by the release of available potential energy (APE) into kinetic energy (KE), and that such a conversion takes place primarily in the deep western boundary currents. In this paper, we develop an analytical description linking the western boundary current circulation below the interface separating the North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) and Antarctic Intermediate Water (AAIW) to the shape of this interface. The simple analytical model also shows how available potential energy is converted into kinetic energy at each location, and that the strength of the transport within the western boundary current is proportional to the local meridional pressure gradient at low latitudes. The present results suggest, therefore, that the conversion rate of potential energy may provide the necessary physical basis for linking the strength of the AMOC to the meridional pressure gradient, and that this could be achieved by a detailed study of the APE to KE conversion in the western boundary current.