Climate Dynamics

, Volume 48, Issue 5–6, pp 2065–2085 | Cite as

The impact of multidecadal Atlantic meridional overturning circulation variations on the Southern Ocean

  • Liping Zhang
  • Thomas L. Delworth
  • Fanrong Zeng


The impact of multidecadal variations of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) on the Southern Ocean (SO) is investigated in the current paper using a coupled ocean–atmosphere model. We find that the AMOC can influence the SO via fast atmosphere teleconnections and subsequent ocean adjustments. A stronger than normal AMOC induces an anomalous warm SST over the North Atlantic, which leads to a warming of the Northern Hemisphere troposphere extending into the tropics. This induces an increased equator-to-pole temperature gradient in the Southern Hemisphere (SH) upper troposphere and lower stratosphere due to an amplified tropical upper tropospheric warming as a result of increased latent heat release. This altered gradients leads to a poleward displacement of the SH westerly jet. The wind change over the SO then cools the SST at high latitudes by anomalous northward Ekman transports. The wind change also weakens the Antarctic bottom water (AABW) cell through changes in surface heat flux forcing. The poleward shifted westerly wind decreases the long term mean easterly winds over the Weddell Sea, thereby reducing the turbulent heat flux loss, decreasing surface density and therefore leading to a weakening of the AABW cell. The weakened AABW cell produces a temperature dipole in the SO, with a warm anomaly in the subsurface and a cold anomaly in the surface that corresponds to an increase of Antarctic sea ice. Opposite conditions occur for a weaker than normal AMOC. Our study here suggests that efforts to attribute the recent observed SO variability to various factors should take into consideration not only local process but also remote forcing from the North Atlantic.


Atlantic meridional overturning circulation Southern Ocean Antarctic sea ice 



The authors would like to thank Liwei Jia and Monika Barcikowska for very helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Liping Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Thomas L. Delworth
    • 2
  • Fanrong Zeng
    • 2
  1. 1.Atmospheric and Oceanic SciencePrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA
  2. 2.NOAA/Geophysical Fluid Dynamics LaboratoryPrincetonUSA

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