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Global and European climate impacts of a slowdown of the AMOC in a high resolution GCM

Abstract

The impacts of a hypothetical slowdown in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) are assessed in a state-of-the-art global climate model (HadGEM3), with particular emphasis on Europe. This is the highest resolution coupled global climate model to be used to study the impacts of an AMOC slowdown so far. Many results found are consistent with previous studies and can be considered robust impacts from a large reduction or collapse of the AMOC. These include: widespread cooling throughout the North Atlantic and northern hemisphere in general; less precipitation in the northern hemisphere midlatitudes; large changes in precipitation in the tropics and a strengthening of the North Atlantic storm track. The focus on Europe, aided by the increase in resolution, has revealed previously undiscussed impacts, particularly those associated with changing atmospheric circulation patterns. Summer precipitation decreases (increases) in northern (southern) Europe and is associated with a negative summer North Atlantic Oscillation signal. Winter precipitation is also affected by the changing atmospheric circulation, with localised increases in precipitation associated with more winter storms and a strengthened winter storm track. Stronger westerly winds in winter increase the warming maritime effect while weaker westerlies in summer decrease the cooling maritime effect. In the absence of these circulation changes the cooling over Europe’s landmass would be even larger in both seasons. The general cooling and atmospheric circulation changes result in weaker peak river flows and vegetation productivity, which may raise issues of water availability and crop production.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the Joint DECC/Defra Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme (GA01101). We would like to thank M. Mizielinski for technical assistance in setting up and running HadGEM3 and C. Mathison and K. Williams for assistance with the river flow analysis. The authors would also like to thank Pete Falloon and Richard Betts for useful discussions during the preparation of this paper. Finally we wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments which improved this manuscript.

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Correspondence to L. C. Jackson.

Appendix

Appendix

The thermal advection is calculated as \(-\mathbf {u}_{850}\cdot \nabla T_{850}\) using the wind vectors \((\mathbf {u})\) and atmospheric temperatures \((T)\) at 850 hPa. The gradients were calculated as centred differences over \(20^\circ\) in both latitude and longitude to smooth out small scale noise.

To show how advection from the prevailing winds affects European surface temperature \((T_S)\), a regression model was built between seasonal mean \(T_S\) and advection at 850 hPa:

$$\begin{aligned} T_S^p = -A\mathbf {u}_{850}^p\cdot \nabla T_{850}^p + \mathrm {residual}. \end{aligned}$$

where \(T_S^p\) and \(\mathbf {u}_{850}^p\cdot \nabla T_{850}^p\) were area averaged over central European regions showing strong thermal advection changes in Fig. 6 (0–30°E, 50–65°N in DJF and 0–30°E, 45–60°N in JJA). The superscript \(p\) indicates that the data were taken from seasonal means from the 30 year period of the perturbation run where the AMOC was reduced in strength, though similar relationships are found in the equivalent 30 year period in the control run. This gives correlations between \(T_S^p\) and \(-\mathbf {u}_{850}^p \cdot \nabla T_{850}^p\) of 0.5 in DJF and 0.7 in JJA, and values of \(A\) of 2.7 × 105s and 1.8 × 105 s respectively. The significant correlations support the importance of the seasonal mean advection in affecting surface temperature.

The cooling associated with the temperature changes alone can be assessed using the regression model above with the wind vector replaced by that from the control experiment:

$$\begin{aligned} T_S^{p*} = -A \mathbf {u}_{850}^c\cdot \nabla T_{850}^p. \end{aligned}$$

Hence the thermal advection is calculated using wind velocities from the control experiment and temperature from the perturbed experiment, effectively assuming the wind field does not change in response to the forcing. Applying this regression model to estimate \(T_S^{p*}\) suggests that the cooling over Europe in the absence of the wind response would be 12 % stronger in winter and 34 % stronger in summer. Hence the atmospheric circulation changes result in a reduction in the cooling over land in Europe.

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Jackson, L.C., Kahana, R., Graham, T. et al. Global and European climate impacts of a slowdown of the AMOC in a high resolution GCM. Clim Dyn 45, 3299–3316 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-015-2540-2

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Keywords

  • Climate
  • Impacts
  • AMOC