The southward-flowing deep limb of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation is composed of both the deep western boundary current (DWBC) and interior pathways. The latter are fed by “leakiness” from the DWBC in the Newfoundland Basin. However, the cause of this leakiness has not yet been explored mechanistically. Here the statistics and dynamics of the DWBC leakiness in the Newfoundland Basin are explored using two float datasets and a high-resolution numerical model. The float leakiness around Flemish Cap is found to be concentrated in several areas (hot spots) that are collocated with bathymetric curvature and steepening. Numerical particle advection experiments reveal that the Lagrangian mean velocity is offshore at these hot spots, while Lagrangian variability is minimal locally. Furthermore, model Eulerian mean streamlines separate from the DWBC to the interior at the leakiness hot spots. This suggests that the leakiness of Lagrangian particles is primarily accomplished by an Eulerian mean flow across isobaths, though eddies serve to transfer around 50% of the Lagrangian particles to the leakiness hot spots via chaotic advection, and rectified eddy transport accounts for around 50% of the offshore flow along the southern face of Flemish Cap. Analysis of the model’s energy and potential vorticity budgets suggests that the flow is baroclinically unstable after separation, but that the resulting eddies induce modest modifications of the mean potential vorticity along streamlines. These results suggest that mean uncompensated leakiness occurs mostly through inertial separation, for which a scaling analysis is presented. Implications for leakiness of other major boundary current systems are discussed.
Paleoclimate proxy evidence suggests that the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) was about 1000 m shallower at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) compared to the present. Yet it remains unresolved what caused this glacial shoaling of the AMOC, and many climate models instead simulate a deeper AMOC under LGM forcing. While some studies suggest that Southern Ocean surface buoyancy forcing controls the AMOC depth, others have suggested alternatively that North Atlantic surface forcing or interior diabatic mixing plays the dominant role. To investigate the key processes that set the AMOC depth, here we carry out a number of MITgcm ocean-only simulations with surface forcing fields specified from the simulation results of three coupled climate models that span much of the range of glacial AMOC depth changes in phase 3 of the Paleoclimate Model Intercomparison Project (PMIP3). We find that the MITgcm simulations successfully reproduce the changes in AMOC depth between glacial and modern conditions simulated in these three PMIP3 models. By varying the restoring time scale in the surface forcing, we show that the AMOC depth is more strongly constrained by the surface density field than the surface buoyancy flux field. Based on these results, we propose a mechanism by which the surface density fields in the high latitudes of both hemispheres are connected to the AMOC depth. We illustrate the mechanism using MITgcm simulations with idealized surface forcing perturbations as well as an idealized conceptual geometric model. These results suggest that the AMOC depth is largely determined by the surface density fields in both the North Atlantic and the Southern Ocean.
Baroclinic eddy restratification strongly influences the ocean’s general circulation and tracer budgets, and has been routinely parameterized via the Gent–McWilliams (GM) scheme in coarse-resolution ocean climate models. These parameterizations have been improved via refinements of the GM eddy transfer coefficient using eddy-resolving simulations and theoretical developments. However, previous efforts have focused primarily on the open ocean, and the applicability of existing GM parameterization approaches to continental slopes remains to be addressed. In this study, we use a suite of eddy-resolving, process-oriented simulations to test scaling relationships between eddy buoyancy diffusivity, mean flow properties, and topographic geometries in simulations of baroclinic turbulence over continental slopes. We focus on the case of retrograde (i.e., opposing the direction of topographic wave propagation) winds, a configuration that arises commonly around the margins of the subtropical gyres.
Three types of scalings are examined, namely, the GEOMETRIC framework developed by Marshall et al. (2012), a new ”Cross-Front” (CF) scaling derived via dimensional arguments, and the mixing length theory (MLT)-based scalings tested recently by Jansen et al. (2015) over a flat ocean bed. The present study emphasizes the crucial role of the local slope parameter, defined as the ratio between the topographic slope and the depth-averaged isopycnal slope, in controlling the nonlinear eddy buoyancy fluxes. Both the GEOMETRIC framework and the CF scaling can reproduce the depth-averaged eddy buoyancy transfer across alongshore-uniform continental slopes, for suitably chosen constant prefactors. Generalization of these scalings across both continental slope and open ocean environments requires the introduction of prefactors that depend on the local slope parameter via empirically derived analytical functions. In contrast, the MLT-based scalings fail to quantify the eddy buoyancy transfer across alongshore-uniform continental slopes when constant prefactors are adopted, but can reproduce the cross-slope eddy flux when the prefactors are adapted via empirical functions of the local slope parameter. Application of these scalings in prognostic ocean simulations also depends on an accurate representation of standing eddies associated with the topographic corrugations of the continental slope. These findings offer a basis for extending existing approaches to parameterizing transient eddies, and call for future efforts to parameterize standing eddies in coarse-resolution ocean climate models.
Ocean volume and tracer transports are commonly computed on density surfaces because doing so approximates the semi-Lagrangian mean advective transport. The resulting density-averaged transport can be related approximately to Eulerian-averaged quantities via the Temporal Residual Mean (TRM), valid in the limit of small isopycnal height fluctuations. This article builds on a formulation of the TRM for volume fluxes within Neutral Density surfaces, (the “NDTRM”), selected because Neutral Density surfaces are constructed to be as neutral as possible while still forming well-defined surfaces. This article derives a TRM, referred to as the “Neutral TRM” (NTRM), that approximates volume fluxes within surfaces whose vertical fluctuations are defined directly by the neutral relation. The purpose of the NTRM is to more closely approximate the semi-Lagrangian mean transport than the NDTRM, because the latter introduces errors associated with differences between the instantaneous state of the modeled/observed ocean and the reference climatology used to assign the Neutral Density variable. It is shown that the NDTRM collapses to the NTRM in the limiting case of a Neutral Density variable defined with reference to the Eulerian-mean salinity, potential temperature and pressure, rather than an external reference climatology, and therefore that the NTRM approximately advects this density variable. This prediction is verified directly using output from an idealized eddy-resolving numerical model. The NTRM therefore offers an efficient and accurate estimate of modeled semi-Lagrangian mean transports without reference to an external reference climatology, but requires that a Neutral Density variable be computed once from the model’s time-mean state in order to estimate isopycnal and diapycnal components of the transport.
The Holocene thermal maximum was characterized by strong summer solar heating that substantially increased the summertime temperature relative to preindustrial climate. However, the summer warming was compensated by weaker winter insolation, and the annual mean temperature of the Holocene thermal maximum remains ambiguous. Using multimodel mid-Holocene simulations, we show that the annual mean Northern Hemisphere temperature is strongly correlated with the degree of Arctic amplification and sea ice loss. Additional model experiments show that the summer Arctic sea ice loss persists into winter and increases the mid- and high-latitude temperatures. These results are evaluated against four proxy datasets to verify that the annual mean northern high-latitude temperature during the mid-Holocene was warmer than the preindustrial climate, because of the seasonally rectified temperature increase driven by the Arctic amplification. This study offers a resolution to the “Holocene temperature conundrum”, a well-known discrepancy between paleo-proxies and climate model simulations of Holocene thermal maximum.
All exchanges between the open ocean and the Antarctic continental shelf must cross the Antarctic Slope Current (ASC). Previous studies indicate that these exchanges are strongly influenced by mesoscale and tidal variability, yet the mechanisms responsible for setting the ASC’s transport and structure have received relatively little attention. In this study the roles of winds, eddies, and tides in accelerating the ASC are investigated using a global ocean–sea ice simulation with very high resolution (1/48° grid spacing). It is found that the circulation along the continental slope is accelerated both by surface stresses, ultimately sourced from the easterly winds, and by mesoscale eddy vorticity fluxes. At the continental shelf break, the ASC exhibits a narrow (~30–50 km), swift (>0.2 m s−1) jet, consistent with in situ observations. In this jet the surface stress is substantially reduced, and may even vanish or be directed eastward, because the ocean surface speed matches or exceeds that of the sea ice. The shelfbreak jet is shown to be accelerated by tidal momentum advection, consistent with the phenomenon of tidal rectification. Consequently, the shoreward Ekman transport vanishes and thus the mean overturning circulation that steepens the Antarctic Slope Front (ASF) is primarily due to tidal acceleration. These findings imply that the circulation and mean overturning of the ASC are not only determined by near-Antarctic winds, but also depend crucially on sea ice cover, regionally-dependent mesoscale eddy activity over the continental slope, and the amplitude of tidal flows across the continental shelf break.
Previous studies have highlighted the sensitivity of the Southern Ocean circulation to the strengthening, poleward-shifting westerlies, associated with the increasingly positive southern annular mode (SAM). The impacts of the SAM have been hypothesized to weaken momentum input to the ocean from the easterly winds around the Antarctic margins. Using ERA-Interim data, the authors show that the circumpolar-averaged easterly wind stress has not weakened over the past 3–4 decades, and, if anything, has slightly strengthened by around 7%. However, there has been a substantial increase in the seasonality of the easterlies, with a weakening of the easterly winds during austral summer and a strengthening during winter. A similar trend in the seasonality of the easterlies is found in three other reanalysis products that compare favorably with Antarctic meteorological observations. The authors associate the strengthening of the easterly winds during winter with an increase in the pressure gradient between the coast and the pole. Although the trend in the overall easterly wind strength is small, the change in the seasonal cycle may be expected to reduce the shoreward Ekman transport of summer surface waters and also to admit more warm Circumpolar Deep Water to the continental shelf in summer. Changes in the seasonal cycle of the near-coastal winds may also project onto seasonal formation and export of sea ice, fluctuations in the strengths of the Weddell and Ross Gyres, and seasonal export of Antarctic Bottom Water from the continental shelf.
Bathymetric sills are important features in the ocean-filled cavities beneath a few fast-retreating ice shelves in West Antarctica and northern Greenland. The sills can be high enough to obstruct the cavity circulation and thereby modulate glacial melt rates. This study focuses on the idealized problem of diabatically driven, sill-constrained overturning circulation in a cavity. The circulation beneath fast-melting ice shelves can generally be characterized by an inflow of relatively warm dense water (with temperatures of a few degrees Celsius above the local freezing point) at depth and cold, less-dense, outflowing water, which exhibits an approximately two-layer structure in observations. We use a two-layer isopycnal hydrostatic model to study the cross-sill exchange of these waters in ice shelf cavities wide enough to be rotationally dominated. A quasigeostrophic constraint is determined for the transport imposed by the stratification. Relative to this constraint, the key parameters controlling the transport and its variability are the sill height relative to the bottom layer thickness and the strength of the friction relative to the potential vorticity (PV) gradient imposed by the sill. By varying these two key parameters, we simulate a diversity of flow phenomena. For a given meridional pressure gradient, the cross-sill transport is controlled by sill height beyond a critical threshold in the eddy-permitting, low-friction regime, while it is insensitive to friction in both the low-friction and high-friction regimes. We present theoretical ideas to explain the flow characteristics: a Stommel boundary layer for the friction-dominated regime; mean–eddy PV balances and energy conversion in the low-friction, low-sill regime; and hydraulic control in the low-friction, high-sill regime, with various estimates for transport in each of these regimes.
The Antarctic Slope Current (ASC) is a coherent circulation feature that rings the Antarctic continental shelf and regulates the flow of water toward the Antarctic coastline. The structure and variability of the ASC influences key processes near the Antarctic coastline that have global implications, such as the melting of Antarctic ice shelves and water mass formation that determines the strength of the global overturning circulation. Recent theoretical, modeling, and observational advances have revealed new dynamical properties of the ASC, making it timely to review. Earlier reviews of the ASC focused largely on local classifications of water properties of the ASC’s primary front. Here we instead provide a classification of the current’s frontal structure based on the dynamical mechanisms that govern both the along-slope and cross-slope circulation; these two modes of circulation are strongly coupled, similar to the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Highly variable motions, such as dense overflows, tides, and eddies are shown to be critical components of cross-slope and cross-shelf exchange, but understanding of how the distribution and intensity of these processes will evolve in a changing climate remains poor due to observational and modeling limitations. Results linking the ASC to larger modes of climate variability, such as El Niño, show that the ASC is an integral part of global climate. An improved dynamical understanding of the ASC is still needed to accurately model and predict future Antarctic sea ice extent, the stability of the Antarctic ice sheets, and the Southern Ocean’s contribution to the global carbon cycle.
Mid-Holocene climate was characterized by strong summer solar heating that decreased Arctic sea ice cover. Motivated by recent studies identifying Arctic sea ice loss as a key driver of future climate change, we separate the influences of Arctic sea ice loss on mid-Holocene climate. By performing idealized climate model perturbation experiments, we show that Arctic sea ice loss causes zonally asymmetric surface temperature responses especially in winter: sea ice loss warms North America and the North Pacific, which would otherwise be much colder due to weaker winter insolation. In contrast, over East Asia, sea ice loss slightly decreases the temperature in early winter. These temperature responses are associated with the weakening of mid-high latitude westerlies and polar stratospheric warming. Sea ice loss also weakens the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, although this weakening signal diminishes after 150–200 years of model integration. These results suggest that mid-Holocene climate changes should be interpreted in terms of both Arctic sea ice cover and insolation forcing.
Almost all heat reaching the bases of Antarctica's ice shelves originates from warm Circumpolar Deep Water in the open Southern Ocean. This study quantifies the roles of mean and transient flows in transporting heat across almost the entire Antarctic continental slope and shelf using an ocean/sea ice model run at eddy- and tide-resolving (1/48°) horizontal resolution. Heat transfer by transient flows is approximately attributed to eddies and tides via a decomposition into time scales shorter than and longer than 1 day, respectively. It is shown that eddies transfer heat across the continental slope (ocean depths greater than 1,500 m), but tides produce a stronger shoreward heat flux across the shelf break (ocean depths between 500 m and 1,000 m). However, the tidal heat fluxes are approximately compensated by mean flows, leaving the eddy heat flux to balance the net shoreward heat transport. The eddy-driven cross-slope overturning circulation is too weak to account for the eddy heat flux. This suggests that isopycnal eddy stirring is the principal mechanism of shoreward heat transport around Antarctica, though likely modulated by tides and surface forcing.
Mesoscale eddies are ubiquitous in the ocean and play a key role in exchanges across continental slopes. In this study the properties of wind-driven baroclinic turbulence are investigated using eddy-resolving process simulations, focusing on the case of retrograde winds that arises around the margins of the subtropical gyres. In contrast to a flat-bottomed ocean, over steep slopes eddies develop from baroclinic instabilities are confined to the top few hundred meters. Deeper in the water column baroclinic instability and vertical momentum transfer are suppressed, so wind-input momentum is exported toward the open ocean by eddies before traversing down to the ocean bed. Close to the sloping topography, eddy energy sourced from the upper ocean is converted to potential energy, steepening isopycnals and driving bottom-trapped prograde flows. This process is associated with upgradient lateral buoyancy fluxes and downgradient isopycnal potential vorticity fluxes, and cannot be reproduced via linear stability calculations.
These properties of wind-driven shelf/slope turbulence are contrasted against simulations with flat bathymetry. The key differences described above hinge on the flow close to the steep topographic slope, which may be sensitive to the model’s vertical coordinate system. The simulations are therefore replicated using models that employ geopotential coordinates, terrain-following coordinates, and isopycnal coordinates. Quantitative inter-model discrepancies in the momentum and energy budgets are much more pronounced in the presence of a steep bottom slope. However, the key findings of this study are consistent across the models, suggesting that they are robust and warrant incorporation into parameterizations of eddy transfer across continental slopes.
Paleoclimate proxy data suggest that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) was shallower at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) than its preindustrial (PI) depth. Previous studies have suggested that this shoaling necessarily accompanies Antarctic sea ice expansion at the LGM. Here the influence of Southern Ocean surface forcing on the AMOC depth is investigated using ocean‐only simulations from a state‐of‐the‐art climate model with surface forcing specified from the output of previous coupled PI and LGM simulations. In contrast to previous expectations, we find that applying LGM surface forcing in the Southern Ocean and PI surface forcing elsewhere causes the AMOC to shoal only about half as much as when LGM surface forcing is applied globally. We show that this occurs because diapycnal mixing renders the Southern Ocean overturning circulation more diabatic than previously assumed, which diminishes the influence of Southern Ocean surface buoyancy forcing on the depth of the AMOC.
Arctic summer sea ice extent exhibits substantial interannual variability, as is highlighted by the remarkable recovery in sea ice extent in 2013 following the record minimum in the summer of 2012. Here, the mechanism via which Arctic Oscillation (AO)-induced ice thickness changes impact summer sea ice is explored, using observations and reanalysis data. A positive AO weakens the basin-scale anticyclonic sea ice drift and decreases the winter ice thickness by 15 and 10 cm in the Eurasian and the Pacific sectors of the Arctic, respectively. Three reanalysis datasets show that the upward surface heat fluxes are reduced over wide areas of the Arctic, suppressing the ice growth during the positive AO winters. The winter dynamic and thermodynamic thinning preconditions the ice for enhanced radiative forcing via the ice–albedo feedback in late spring–summer, leading to an additional 10 cm of thinning over the Pacific sector of the Arctic. Because of these winter AO-induced dynamic and thermodynamics effects, the winter AO explains about 22% (r = −0.48) of the interannual variance of September sea ice extent from 1980 to 2015.
Zonal momentum input into the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) by westerly winds is ultimately removed via topographic form stress induced by large bathymetric features that obstruct the path of the current. These bathymetric features also support the export of Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) across the ACC via deep, geostrophically balanced, northward flows. These deep geostrophic currents modify the topographic form stress, implying that changes in AABW export will alter the ocean bottom pressure and require a rearrangement of the ACC in order to preserve its zonal momentum balance. A conceptual model of the ACC momentum balance is used to derive a relationship between the volume export of AABW and the shape of the sea surface across the ACC’s standing meanders. This prediction is tested using an idealized eddy-resolving ACC/Antarctic shelf channel model that includes both the upper and lower cells of the Southern Ocean meridional overturning circulation, using two different topographic configurations to obstruct the flow of the ACC. Eliminating AABW production leads to a shallowing of the sea surface elevation within the standing meander. To quantify this response, the authors introduce the “surface-induced topographic form stress,” the topographic form stress that would result from the shape of the sea surface if the ocean were barotropic. Eliminating AABW production also reduces the magnitude of the eddy kinetic energy generated downstream of the meander and the surface speed of the ACC within the meander. These findings raise the possibility that ongoing changes in AABW export may be detectable via satellite altimetry.
Along various stretches of the Antarctic margins, dense Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) escapes its formation sites and descends the continental slope. This export necessarily raises the isopycnals associated with lighter density classes over the continental slope, resulting in density surfaces that connect the near-freezing waters of the continental shelf to the much warmer circumpolar deep water (CDW) at middepth offshore. In this article, an eddy-resolving process model is used to explore the possibility that AABW export enhances shoreward heat transport by creating a pathway for CDW to access the continental shelf without doing any work against buoyancy forces. In the absence of a net alongshore pressure gradient, the shoreward CDW transport is effected entirely by mesoscale and submesoscale eddy transfer. Eddies are generated partly by instabilities at the pycnocline, sourcing their energy from the alongshore wind stress, but primarily by instabilities at the CDW–AABW interface, sourcing their energy from buoyancy loss on the continental shelf. This combination of processes induces a vertical convergence of eddy kinetic energy and alongshore momentum into the middepth CDW layer, sustaining a local maximum in the eddy kinetic energy over the slope and balancing the Coriolis force associated with the shoreward CDW transport. The resulting slope turbulence self-organizes into a series of alternating along-slope jets with strongly asymmetrical contributions to the slope energy and momentum budgets. Cross-shore variations in the potential vorticity gradient cause the jets to drift continuously offshore, suggesting that fronts observed in regions of AABW down-slope flow may in fact be transient features.