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Impact of freshwater discharge from the Greenland ice sheet on North Atlantic climate variability

Abstract

Using a coupled ocean–atmosphere general circulation model, we investigated the impact of Greenland ice sheet melting on North Atlantic climate variability. The positive-degree day (PDD) method was incorporated into the model to control continental ice melting (PDD run). Models with and without the PDD method produce a realistic pattern of North Atlantic sea surface temperature (SST) variability that fluctuates from decadal to multidecadal periods. However, the interdecadal variability in PDD run is significantly dominated in the longer time scale compared to that in the run without PDD method. The main oscillatory feature in these experiments likely resembles the density-driven oscillatory mode. A reduction in the ocean density over the subpolar Atlantic results in suppression of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), leading to a cold SST due to a weakening of northward heat transport. The decreased surface evaporation associated with the cold SST further reduces the ocean density and thus, simultaneously acts as a positive feedback mechanism. The southward meridional current associated with the suppressed AMOC causes a positive tendency in the ocean density through density advection, which accounts for the phase transition of this oscillatory mode. The Greenland ice melting process reduces the mean meridional current and meridional density gradient because of additional fresh water flux, which suppress the delayed negative feedback due to meridional density advection. As a result, the oscillation period becomes longer and the transition is more delayed.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Profs. A. Timmermann and H. Yang for their valuable comments. This work was supported by SBS foundation and the Polar Academic Program (PAP), KOPRI.

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Correspondence to Soon-Il An.

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An, SI., Kim, H. & Kim, BM. Impact of freshwater discharge from the Greenland ice sheet on North Atlantic climate variability. Theor Appl Climatol 112, 29–43 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00704-012-0699-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00704-012-0699-6

Keywords

  • Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation
  • Empirical Orthogonal Function Mode
  • Ocean Heat Content
  • Zonal Wind Stress
  • Principal Component Time Series