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Localization of deep water formation: role of atmospheric moisture transport and geometrical constraints on ocean circulation

Ferreira, D., Marshall, J. and Campin, J.-M. (2010) Localization of deep water formation: role of atmospheric moisture transport and geometrical constraints on ocean circulation. Journal of Climate, 23 (6). pp. 1456-1476. ISSN 1520-0442

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To link to this article DOI: 10.1175/2009JCLI3197.1


A series of coupled atmosphere–ocean–ice aquaplanet experiments is described in which topological constraints on ocean circulation are introduced to study the role of ocean circulation on the mean climate of the coupled system. It is imagined that the earth is completely covered by an ocean of uniform depth except for the presence or absence of narrow barriers that extend from the bottom of the ocean to the sea surface. The following four configurations are described: Aqua (no land), Ridge (one barrier extends from pole to pole), Drake (one barrier extends from the North Pole to 35°S), and DDrake (two such barriers are set 90° apart and join at the North Pole, separating the ocean into a large basin and a small basin, connected to the south). On moving from Aqua to Ridge to Drake to DDrake, the energy transports in the equilibrium solutions become increasingly “realistic,” culminating in DDrake, which has an uncanny resemblance to the present climate. Remarkably, the zonal-average climates of Drake and DDrake are strikingly similar, exhibiting almost identical heat and freshwater transports, and meridional overturning circulations. However, Drake and DDrake differ dramatically in their regional climates. The small and large basins of DDrake exhibit distinctive Atlantic-like and Pacific-like characteristics, respectively: the small basin is warmer, saltier, and denser at the surface than the large basin, and is the main site of deep water formation with a deep overturning circulation and strong northward ocean heat transport. A sensitivity experiment with DDrake demonstrates that the salinity contrast between the two basins, and hence the localization of deep convection, results from a deficit of precipitation, rather than an excess of evaporation, over the small basin. It is argued that the width of the small basin relative to the zonal fetch of atmospheric precipitation is the key to understanding this salinity contrast. Finally, it is argued that many gross features of the present climate are consequences of two topological asymmetries that have profound effects on ocean circulation: a meridional asymmetry (circumpolar flow in the Southern Hemisphere; blocked flow in the Northern Hemisphere) and a zonal asymmetry (a small basin and a large basin).

Item Type:Article
Divisions:No Reading authors. Back catalogue items
Faculty of Science > School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:33165
Publisher:American Meteorological Society

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