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The Surface-Forced Overturning of the North Atlantic: Estimates from Modern Era Atmospheric Reanalysis Datasets

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Rory Bingham


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Estimates of the recent mean and time varying water mass transformation rates associated with North Atlantic surface-forced overturning are presented. The estimates are derived from heat and freshwater surface fluxes and sea surface temperature fields from six atmospheric reanalysesthe Japanese 25-yr Reanalysis (JRA), the NCEP-NCAR reanalysis (NCEP1), the NCEP-U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reanalysis (NCEP2), the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Interim Re-Analysis (ERA-I), the Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (CFSR), and the Modern-Era Reanalysis for Research and Applications (MERRA)together with sea surface salinity fields from two globally gridded datasets (World Ocean Atlas and Met Office EN3 datasets). The resulting 12 estimates of the 1979-2007 mean surface-forced streamfunction all depict a subpolar cell, with maxima north of 45 degrees N, near sigma = 27.5 kg m(-3), and a subtropical cell between 20 degrees and 40 degrees N, near sigma = 26.1 kg m(-3). The mean magnitude of the subpolar cell varies between 12 and 18 Sv (1 Sv 10(6) m(3) s(-1)), consistent with estimates of the overturning circulation from subsurface observations. Analysis of the thermal and haline components of the surface density fluxes indicates that large differences in the inferred low-latitude circulation are largely a result of the biases in reanalysis net heat flux fields, which range in the global mean from -13 to 19 W m(-2). The different estimates of temporal variability in the subpolar cell are well correlated with each other. This suggests that the uncertainty associated with the choice of reanalysis product does not critically limit the ability of the method to infer the variability in the subpolar overturning. In contrast, the different estimates of subtropical variability are poorly correlated with each other, and only a subset of them captures a significant fraction of the variability in independently estimated North Atlantic Subtropical Mode Water volume.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Grist JP, Josey SA, Marsh R, Kwon YO, Bingham RJ, Blaker AT

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Climate

Year: 2014

Volume: 27

Issue: 10

Pages: 3596-3618

Print publication date: 01/05/2014

ISSN (print): 0894-8755

ISSN (electronic): 1520-0442

Publisher: American Meteorological Society


DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-13-00070.1


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Funder referenceFunder name
UK National Centre for Earth Observation
NE/I001654/1UK Natural Environment Research Council
OCE-0424492U.S. National Science Foundation