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  • Levermann, A. and Mignot, J. and Nawrath, S. and Rahmstorf, S., 2007: The role of northern sea ice cover for the weakening of the thermohaline circulation under global warming. Journal of Climate, 20, 4160-4171.

An increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration and the resulting global warming are typically associated with a weakening of the thermohaline circulation (THC) in model scenarios. For the models participating in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP), this weakening shows a significant (r=0.62) dependence on the initial THC strength: it is stronger for initially strong overturning. We propose a physical mechanism for this phenomenon based on an analysis of additional simulations with the coupled climate models CLIMBER-2 and CLIMBER-3 . The mechanism is based on the fact that sea ice cover greatly reduces heat loss from the ocean. The extent of sea ice is strongly influenced by the near surface atmospheric temperature (SAT) in the North Atlantic but also by the strength of the THC itself which transports heat to the convection sites. Consequently, sea ice tends to extend further south for weaker THC. Initially larger sea-ice cover responds more strongly to atmospheric warming, thus sea ice retreats more strongly for an initially weaker THC. This sea ice retreat tends to strengthen, i.e. stabilize, the THC because the sea ice retreat allows more oceanic heat loss. This stabilizing effect is stronger for runs with weak initial THC and extensive sea ice cover. Therefore an initially weak THC weakens less under global warming. In contrast to pre-industrial climate, sea ice melting presently plays the role of an external forcing with respect to THC stability.

Full Article: http://www.pik-potsdam.de/~anders/publications/linearity-moc-co2.pdf

Last Updated: 2007-07-25

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