Skip to main content


Log in

On the freshwater forcing and transport of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation

  • Published:
Climate Dynamics Aims and scope Submit manuscript


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Additional information

Received: 10 February 1996 / Accepted: 30 May 1996

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Rahmstorf, S. On the freshwater forcing and transport of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation. Climate Dynamics 12, 799–811 (1996).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: