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An anatomy of the projected North Atlantic warming hole in CMIP5 models


Global mean surface air temperature has increased over the past century and climate models project this trend to continue. However, the pattern of change is not homogeneous. Of particular interest is the subpolar North Atlantic, which has cooled in recent years and is projected to continue to warm less rapidly than the global mean. This is often termed the North Atlantic warming hole (WH). In climate model projections, the development of the WH is concomitant with a weakening of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC). Here, we further investigate the possible link between the AMOC and WH and the competing drivers of vertical mixing and surface heat fluxes. Across a large ensemble of 41 climate models we find that the spatial structure of the WH varies considerably from model to model but is generally upstream of the simulated deep water formation regions. A heat budget analysis suggests the formation of the WH is related to changes in ocean heat transport. Although the models display a plethora of AMOC mean states, they generally predict a weakening and shallowing of the AMOC also consistent with the evolving depth structure of the WH. A lagged regression analysis during the WH onset phase suggests that reductions in wintertime mixing lead a weakening of the AMOC by 5 years in turn leading initiation of the WH by 5 years. Inter-model differences in the evolution and structure of the WH are likely to lead to somewhat different projected climate impacts in nearby Europe and North America.

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The authors were supported by the Joint UK BEIS/Defra Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme (GA01101). We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modeling groups (listed in Table 1 of this paper) for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the U.S. Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. The authors would like to thank Jamie Kettleborough (Met Office) for the design and support of routines to retrieve and post-process data from the CMIP5 archive.

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Correspondence to Matthew B. Menary.

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Menary, M.B., Wood, R.A. An anatomy of the projected North Atlantic warming hole in CMIP5 models. Clim Dyn 50, 3063–3080 (2018).

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  • Hole Heating (WH)
  • CMIP5 Models
  • Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC)
  • Warm Hole
  • Ocean Heat Transport (OHT)