Climate Dynamics

, Volume 38, Issue 9–10, pp 1925–1947 | Cite as

Variability of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation in the last millennium and two IPCC scenarios

  • Pablo OrtegaEmail author
  • Marisa Montoya
  • Fidel González-Rouco
  • Juliette Mignot
  • Stephanie Legutke


The variability of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) is investigated in several climate simulations with the ECHO-G atmosphere-ocean general circulation model, including two forced integrations of the last millennium, one millennial-long control run, and two future scenario simulations of the twenty-first century. This constitutes a new framework in which the AMOC response to future climate change conditions is addressed in the context of both its past evolution and its natural variability. The main mechanisms responsible for the AMOC variability at interannual and multidecadal time scales are described. At high frequencies, the AMOC is directly responding to local changes in the Ekman transport, associated with three modes of climate variability: El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), and the East Atlantic (EA) pattern. At low frequencies, the AMOC is largely controlled by convection activity south of Greenland. Again, the atmosphere is found to play a leading role in these variations. Positive anomalies of convection are preceded in 1 year by intensified zonal winds, associated in the forced runs to a positive NAO-like pattern. Finally, the sensitivity of the AMOC to three different forcing factors is investigated. The major impact is associated with increasing greenhouse gases, given their strong and persistent radiative forcing. Starting in the Industrial Era and continuing in the future scenarios, the AMOC experiences a final decrease of up to 40% with respect to the preindustrial average. Also, a weak but significant AMOC strengthening is found in response to the major volcanic eruptions, which produce colder and saltier surface conditions over the main convection regions. In contrast, no meaningful impact of the solar forcing on the AMOC is observed. Indeed, solar irradiance only affects convection in the Nordic Seas, with a marginal contribution to the AMOC variability in the ECHO-G runs.


Atlantic meridional overturning circulation Future climate change Multidecadal variability Forced millennial simulations 



This work was possible thanks to the funding by the MCINN projects CGL2005-06097 and CGL2008-06558-C02-C01/CLI, the MARM project 200800050084028 and also by the European Community’s 7th framework programme (FP7/2007–2013) under grant agreement No. GA212643 (THOR: “Thermohaline Overturning circulation at Risk?’, 2008–2012). The authors are grateful to the four anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions that helped improve the current version of the manuscript. We would also like to thank Myriam Khodri and Didier Swingedouw for their valuable advice.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pablo Ortega
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Marisa Montoya
    • 1
    • 2
  • Fidel González-Rouco
    • 1
    • 2
  • Juliette Mignot
    • 3
  • Stephanie Legutke
    • 4
  1. 1.Dpto. Astrofísica y Ciencias de la Atmósfera/Instituto de Geociencias, Facultad de Ciencias FísicasUniversidad Complutense de Madrid, Ciudad UniversitariaMadridSpain
  2. 2.Instituto de Geociencias (UCM-CSIC), Facultad de Ciencias FísicasUniversidad Complutense de Madrid, Ciudad UniversitariaMadridSpain
  3. 3.IPSL/LOCEAN, UPMC/CNRS/IRD/MNHN, Université Pierre et Marie CurieParis Cedex 05France
  4. 4.Deutsches Klimarechenzentrum (DKRZ)HamburgGermany

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