Initialisation and predictability of the AMOC over the last 50 years in a climate model

An Erratum to this article was published on 18 December 2013

Abstract

The mechanisms involved in Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) decadal variability and predictability over the last 50 years are analysed in the IPSL–CM5A–LR model using historical and initialised simulations. The initialisation procedure only uses nudging towards sea surface temperature anomalies with a physically based restoring coefficient. When compared to two independent AMOC reconstructions, both the historical and nudged ensemble simulations exhibit skill at reproducing AMOC variations from 1977 onwards, and in particular two maxima occurring respectively around 1978 and 1997. We argue that one source of skill is related to the large Mount Agung volcanic eruption starting in 1963, which reset an internal 20-year variability cycle in the North Atlantic in the model. This cycle involves the East Greenland Current intensity, and advection of active tracers along the subpolar gyre, which leads to an AMOC maximum around 15 years after the Mount Agung eruption. The 1997 maximum occurs approximately 20 years after the former one. The nudged simulations better reproduce this second maximum than the historical simulations. This is due to the initialisation of a cooling of the convection sites in the 1980s under the effect of a persistent North Atlantic oscillation (NAO) positive phase, a feature not captured in the historical simulations. Hence we argue that the 20-year cycle excited by the 1963 Mount Agung eruption together with the NAO forcing both contributed to the 1990s AMOC maximum. These results support the existence of a 20-year cycle in the North Atlantic in the observations. Hindcasts following the CMIP5 protocol are launched from a nudged simulation every 5 years for the 1960–2005 period. They exhibit significant correlation skill score as compared to an independent reconstruction of the AMOC from 4-year lead-time average. This encouraging result is accompanied by increased correlation skills in reproducing the observed 2-m air temperature in the bordering regions of the North Atlantic as compared to non-initialized simulations. To a lesser extent, predicted precipitation tends to correlate with the nudged simulation in the tropical Atlantic. We argue that this skill is due to the initialisation and predictability of the AMOC in the present prediction system. The mechanisms evidenced here support the idea of volcanic eruptions as a pacemaker for internal variability of the AMOC. Together with the existence of a 20-year cycle in the North Atlantic they propose a novel and complementary explanation for the AMOC variations over the last 50 years.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Sophie Szopa for providing the external forcing data (Fig. 1). We also thank Jean-Louis Dufresne for fruitful discussions concerning the historical simulations and Sébastien Denvil, Marie-Alice Foujols and Arnaud Caubel for running the historical simulations. We wish to acknowledge the use of the Ferret software for analysis and graphics in this paper and the help of Patrick Brockmann for the use of this software. This research was supported was supported by the “Gestion des Impacts du Changement Climatique” Programme (GICC) under the EPIDOM project funded by MEDDTL (French Minister of Ecology and sustained development). We also acknowledge financial support from the CNRS/INSU/LEFE/EVE French program through the Ti Ammo project. The work presented has largely benefited from the work of our colleagues of the IPSL Climate Modeling Centre. This work benefited of the HPC resources of CCRT and IDRIS made available by GENCI (Grand Equipement National de Calcul Intensif). We also would like to thank the anonymous referees for their constructive and helpful remarks on this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Didier Swingedouw.

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This paper is a contribution to the special issue on the IPSL and CNRM global climate and Earth System Models, both developed in France and contributing to the 5th coupled model intercomparison project.

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Swingedouw, D., Mignot, J., Labetoulle, S. et al. Initialisation and predictability of the AMOC over the last 50 years in a climate model. Clim Dyn 40, 2381–2399 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-012-1516-8

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Keywords

  • Decadal climate prediction
  • Ocean dynamics
  • Atlantic meridional overturning circulation
  • Hindcast
  • Predictability
  • Volcanic eruptions
  • Mount Agung
  • North Atlantic oscillation