Computational Modelling Group

Atlantic ocean meridional heat transport at 26oN: Impact on subtropical ocean heat content variability

30th May 2009
30th September 2013
Research Team
Maike Sonnewald
Robert Marsh

Figure summarizing the AV (left) and FV (right) box model results, detrended and with the mean removed. Both figures illustrate the OHC variability attributable to the tested forcing scenarios. Note the atmospheric dominance on the seasonally varying cli

Local climate is significantly affected by changes in the oceanic heat content on a range of timescales. This variability is driven by heat fluxes from both the atmosphere and the ocean. In the Atlantic the meridional overturning circulation is the main contributor to the oceanic meridional heat transport for latitudes south of about 50◦ N. The RAPID project has been successfully monitoring the Atlantic meridional overturning at 26◦ N since 2004. This study demonstrates how this data can be used to estimate the basin-wide ocean heat content in the upper 800 m between 26◦ N to 36◦ N. Traditionally the atmosphere is seen to dominate the ocean heat content variability. However, previous studies have looked at smaller areas in the Gulf Stream region, finding that the ocean dominates deseasoned fluctuations of ocean heat content, while studies of the whole North Atlantic region suggest that the atmosphere may be dominant. In our study we use a box-model to investigate fluctuations of the ocean heat content in the subtropical North Atlantic between 26◦ N and 36◦ N. The box-model approach is validated using 19 years of high resolution GCM data. We find that in both the GCM and RAPID based data the ocean heat transport dominates the deseasoned heat content variability, while the atmosphere’s impact on the heat content evolution stabilizes after 6 months. We demonstrate that the utility of the RAPID data goes beyond monitoring the overturning circulation at 26◦ N, and that it can be used to better understand the causes of ocean heat content variability in the North Atlantic. We illustrate this for a recent decrease in ocean heat content which was observed in the North Atlantic in 2009 and 2010. Our results suggest that most of this ocean heat content reduction can be explained by a reduction of the meridional ocean heat transport during this period.


Physical Systems and Engineering simulation: Earth Observation, Earth surface dynamics, Oceanography

Algorithms and computational methods: FFT, statistical analysis

Programming languages and libraries: Octave

Transdisciplinary tags: Complex Systems