Climate Dynamics

, Volume 46, Issue 5–6, pp 1351–1369 | Cite as

The sensitivity of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation to enhanced freshwater discharge along the entire, eastern and western coast of Greenland

  • Lei YuEmail author
  • Yongqi Gao
  • Odd Helge Otterå


The possible responses of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) to increased freshwater discharge along the Greenland coast has become an issue of growing concern given the increasing rate of the Greenland ice sheet (GrIS) melting. A recent model study suggested a weakened AMOC of about 13–30 % when a freshwater anomaly of 0.1 Sv (1 Sv = 106 m3 s−1) was released along the entire Greenland coast during the late twentieth century (1965–2000). In this study we use a fully coupled climate model to examine the sensitivity of AMOC to a similar amount of freshwater forcing, but released separately along the eastern, the western and the entire Greenland coast. Our results show that in all three cases there is a general weakening of the AMOC mainly due to a reduced formation of Labrador Sea Water. Moreover, when additional freshwater is released along the eastern coast of Greenland, the AMOC weakens more compared to the other two cases. The different degree of convective mixing reduction in the Irminger Sea is the main reason for the spread in AMOC responses in the three freshwater-hosing experiments. Compared to the other two experiments, the eastern-coast experiment shows a relative warming in the Labrador Sea and the generation of a negative Greenland tip jet-like wind-pattern anomaly. These anomalies lead to a weaker convective mixing in the southern Irminger Sea, and result subsequently in less formation of the simulated Upper Labrador Sea Water (ULSW) in the eastern coast experiment. This study therefore highlights a potential important role for ULSW formation in determining the sensitivity of the AMOC in response to large GrIS melting.


AMOC Greenland ice sheet melting Freshwater-hosing experiment Upper Labrador Sea water formation 



The simulations and analysis in this study were supported by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program (THOR; Grant No. 212643), the National Basic Research Program of China (Grant No. 2009CB421401) and the Strategic Priority Research Program (Grant No. XDA05110203) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, respectively. This study is also a contribution to the Centre for Climate Dynamics at the Bjerknes Centre, Bergen, Norway. We thank three anonymous reviewers for their very useful comments that improved the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Climate Changes Research Center, Institute of Atmospheric PhysicsChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center/Bjerknes Center for Climate ResearchBergenNorway
  3. 3.Uni Research Climate and Bjerknes Centre for Climate ResearchBergenNorway
  4. 4.Nansen-Zhu International Research Centre, Institute of Atmospheric PhysicsChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China

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