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Impact of Interbasin Exchange on the Atlantic Overturning Circulation

Weijer, W., de Ruijter, W. P. M., Dijkstra, H. A. and Van Leeuwen, P. J. (1999) Impact of Interbasin Exchange on the Atlantic Overturning Circulation. Journal of Physical Oceanography, 29 (9). pp. 2266-2284. ISSN 0022-3670

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1175/1520-0485(1999)029<2266:IOIEOT>2.0.CO;2


The thermohaline exchange between the Atlantic and the Southern Ocean is analyzed, using a dataset based on WOCE hydrographic data. It is shown that the salt and heat transports brought about by the South Atlantic subtropical gyre play an essential role in the Atlantic heat and salt budgets. It is found that on average the exported North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) is fresher than the return flows (basically composed of thermocline and intermediate water), indicating that the overturning circulation (OC) exports freshwater from the Atlantic. The sensitivity of the OC to interbasin fluxes of heat and salt is studied in a 2D model, representing the Atlantic between 60°N and 30°S. The model is forced by mixed boundary conditions at the surface, and by realistic fluxes of heat and salt at its 30°S boundary. The model circulation turns out to be very sensitive to net buoyancy fluxes through the surface. Both net surface cooling and net surface saltening are sources of potential energy and impact positively on the circulation strength. The vertical distributions of the lateral fluxes tend to stabilize the stratification, and, as they extract potential energy from the system, tend to weaken the flow. These results imply that a change in the composition of the NADW return transports, whether by a change in the ratio thermocline/intermediate water, or by a change in their thermohaline characteristics, might influence the Atlantic OC considerably. It is also shown that the circulation is much more sensitive to changes in the shape of the lateral buoyancy flux than to changes in the shape of the surface buoyancy flux, as the latter does not explicitly impact on the potential energy of the system. It is concluded that interocean fluxes of heat and salt are important for the strength and operation of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation, and should be correctly represented in models that are used for climate sensitivity studies.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:No Reading authors. Back catalogue items
ID Code:49819

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