On the freshwater forcing and transport of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation
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The 'conveyor belt' circulation of the Atlantic Ocean transports large amounts of heat northward, acting as a heating system for the northern North Atlantic region. It is widely thought that this circulation is driven by atmospheric freshwater export from the Atlantic catchment region, and that it transports freshwater northward to balance the loss to the atmosphere. Using results from a simple conceptual model and a global circulation model, it is argued here that the freshwater loss to the atmosphere arises mainly in the subtropical South Atlantic and is balanced by northward freshwater transport in the wind-driven subtropical gyre, while the thermohaline circulation transports freshwater southward. It is further argued that the direction of freshwater transport is closely linked to the dynamical regime and stability of the 'conveyor belt': if its freshwater transport is indeed southward, then its flow is purely thermally driven and inhibited by the freshwater forcing. In this case the circulation is not far from Stommel's saddle-node bifurcation, and a circulation state without NADW formation would also be stable.
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