On the driving processes of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation

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Abstract

[1] Because of its relevance for the global climate the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) has been a major research focus for many years. Yet the question of which physical mechanisms ultimately drive the AMOC, in the sense of providing its energy supply, remains a matter of controversy. Here we review both observational data and model results concerning the two main candidates: vertical mixing processes in the ocean's interior and wind-induced Ekman upwelling in the Southern Ocean. In distinction to the energy source we also discuss the role of surface heat and freshwater fluxes, which influence the volume transport of the meridional overturning circulation and shape its spatial circulation pattern without actually supplying energy to the overturning itself in steady state. We conclude that both wind-driven upwelling and vertical mixing are likely contributing to driving the observed circulation. To quantify their respective contributions, future research needs to address some open questions, which we outline.

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