AMOC response to global warming: dependence on the background climate and response timescale
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This paper investigates the response of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) to a sudden doubling of atmospheric CO2 in the National Center for Atmospheric Research Community Climate System Model version 3, with a focus on differences under different background climates. The findings reveal that the evolution of the AMOC differs significantly between the modern climate and the last glacial maximum (LGM). In the modern climate, the AMOC decreases (by 25 %, 4 Sv) in the first 100 years and then recovers slowly (by 6 %, 1 Sv) by the end of the 1,500-year simulation. At the LGM, the AMOC also weakens (by 8 %, 1 Sv) in the initial 90 years, but then recovers, first rapidly (by 30 %, 4 Sv) over the following 300 years, and then slowly (by 13 %, 1.6 Sv) during the remainder of the integration. These results suggest that the responses of the AMOC under both climates have a similar initial rapid weakening period of ~100 years and a final slow strengthening period over 1,000 years long. However, additional intermediate period of ~300 years does occur for the LGM, with rapid intensification in the AMOC. Analyses suggest that the rapid intensification is triggered and sustained primarily by a coupled sea ice–ocean feedback: the reduction of meltwater flux in the northern North Atlantic—associated with the remarkable sea-ice retreat at the LGM—intensifies the AMOC and northward heat transport, which, in turn, causes further sea-ice retreat and more reduction of meltwater. These processes are insignificant under modern conditions.
KeywordsAtlantic meridional overturning circulation Carbon dioxide Last glacial maximum Sea ice Timescale
The authors thank Dr. Feng He for performing the transient experiments (TraCE-GHG) and Dr. Esther Brady for helpful comments that improved the quality of this paper. We gratefully acknowledge the constructive comments from two anonymous reviewers. This work is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC 41130105), the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (MOST 2012CB955200), the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.
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