Sensitivity of the thermohaline circulation to Arctic Ocean runoff

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Abstract

[1] Arctic Ocean river runoff increases over the 20th century raise concerns of the potential impact it may have on the thermohaline circulation (THC) and thus global climate. This study investigates how changes in Arctic river discharge may control THC by a series of experiments with an intermediate complexity global climate model. The experiments show an inverse relationship between THC strength and changes to riverine freshwater discharge, similar to the response of THC to surface freshening of the North Atlantic. Arctic Ocean freshwater export and volume were more sensitive to river runoff than sea ice export. A strong linear relationship between the THC strength and the steric height gradient (depth integrated density anomaly and an important driver for the western boundary current) suggests that the Arctic freshwater pools and fluxes are very effective in translating changes in runoff to THC strength by regulating the ocean water density in the North Atlantic.

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