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Global radiative adjustment after a collapse of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation

Abstract

The transient climate response to a collapse of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) is analysed from the difference between two ensembles of climate model simulations with ECHAM5/MPI-OM, one with hosing and the other without hosing. The primary effect of the collapse is to redistribute heat over the two hemispheres. However, Northern Hemisphere sea ice increase in response to the AMOC collapse induces a hemisphere-wide cooling, amplified by atmospheric feedbacks, in particular water vapour. The Southern Hemisphere warming is governed by slower processes. After 25 years the global cooling peaks. Thereafter, the response is characterised by a gradual readjustment of global mean temperature. During the AMOC collapse a downward radiation anomaly arises at the top of the atmosphere (TOA), heating the earth’s surface. The net downward radiation anomaly at TOA arises from reduced longwave emission by the atmosphere, overcompensating the increased net upward anomalies in shortwave and longwave radiation at the surface. This radiation anomaly is associated with net ocean heat uptake: cooling of the overlying atmosphere results from reduced ocean heat release through the increase of sea-ice cover in the North Atlantic. The change in energy flow arises from the reduction in latent and sensible heat flux, which dominate the surface radiation budget. Similar experiments with a climate model of intermediate complexity reveal a stronger shortwave response that acts to reduce the net downward radiation anomaly at TOA. The net shortwave and longwave radiation anomalies at TOA always decrease during the first 100 years after the AMOC collapse, but in the intermediate complexity model this is associated with a sign change after 90 years when the net radiation anomaly at TOA becomes upward, accompanied by net ocean heat loss. After several hundred years the longwave and shortwave anomalies increase again, while the net residual at TOA remains small. This radiative adjustment is associated with the transition to a colder climate.

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Acknowledgments

The ESSENCE project, lead by Wilco Hazeleger and Henk Dijkstra, was carried out with support of DEISA, HLRS, SARA, and NCF (through NCF Projects NRG-2006.06, CAVE-60-023 and SG-06-267). The DEISA Consortium (co-funded by the EU FP6 Project 508830/031513) is thanked for support within the DEISA Extreme Computing Initiative. The author thanks Geert-Jan van Oldenborgh for suggestions and comments, Camiel Severijns for modelling support and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticism on an earlier version of the paper.

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Correspondence to Sybren S. Drijfhout.

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Drijfhout, S.S. Global radiative adjustment after a collapse of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. Clim Dyn 45, 1789–1799 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-014-2433-9

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Keywords

  • Thermohaline circulation
  • Meridional overturning circulation
  • Abrupt climate change
  • Atmospheric feedbacks
  • Bipolar seesaw