Mechanisms of heat content and thermocline change in the subtropical and subpolar North Atlantic

Published

Journal Article

© 2015 American Meteorological Society. In the North Atlantic, there are pronounced gyre-scale changes in ocean heat content on interannual-to-decadal time scales, which are associated with changes in both sea surface temperature and thermocline thickness; the subtropics are often warm with a thick thermocline when the subpolar gyre is cool with a thin thermocline, and vice versa. This climate variability is investigated using a semidiagnostic dynamical analysis of historical temperature and salinity data from 1962 to 2011 together with idealized isopycnic model experiments. On time scales of typically 5 yr, the tendencies in upper-ocean heat content are not simply explained by the area-averaged atmospheric forcing for each gyre but instead dominated by heat convergences associated with the meridional overturning circulation. In the subtropics, the most pronounced warming events are associated with an increased influx of tropical heat driven by stronger trade winds. In the subpolar gyre, the warming and cooling events are associated with changes in western boundary density, where increasing Labrador Sea density leads to an enhanced overturning and an influx of subtropical heat. Thus, upper-ocean heat content anomalies are formed in a different manner in the subtropical and subpolar gyres, with different components of the meridional overturning circulation probably excited by the local imprint of atmospheric forcing.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Williams, RG; Roussenov, V; Lozier, MS; Smith, D

Published Date

  • January 1, 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 28 / 24

Start / End Page

  • 9803 - 9815

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0894-8755

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1175/JCLI-D-15-0097.1

Citation Source

  • Scopus