, Volume 60, Issue 4, pp 771-790,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 07 May 2010

The roles of surface heat flux and ocean heat transport convergence in determining Atlantic Ocean temperature variability


The temperature variability of the Atlantic Ocean is investigated using an eddy-permitting (1/4°) global ocean model (ORCA-025) forced with historical surface meteorological fields from 1958 to 2001. The simulation of volume-averaged temperature and the vertical structure of the zonally averaged temperature trends are compared with those from observations. In regions with a high number of observations, in particular above a depth of 500 m and between 22° N and 65° N, the model simulation and the dataset are in good agreement. The relative contribution of variability in ocean heat transport (OHT) convergence and net surface heat flux to changes in ocean heat content is investigated with a focus on three regions: the subpolar and subtropical gyres and the tropics. The surface heat flux plays a relatively minor role in year-to-year changes in the subpolar and subtropical regions, but in the tropical North Atlantic, its role is of similar significance to the ocean heat transport convergence. The strongest signal during the study period is a cooling of the subpolar gyre between 1970 and 1990, which subsequently reversed as the mid-latitude OHT convergence transitioned from an anomalously weak to an anomalously strong state. We also explore whether model OHT anomalies can be linked to surface flux anomalies through a Hovmöller analysis of the Atlantic sector. At low latitudes, increased ocean heat gain coincides with anomalously strong northward transport, whereas at mid-high latitudes, reduced ocean heat loss is associated with anomalously weak heat transport.

Responsible Editor: John Wilkin