• Open Access

Ocean heat uptake and its consequences for the magnitude of sea level rise and climate change



[1] Under increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat uptake moderates the rate of climate change, and thermal expansion makes a substantial contribution to sea level rise. In this paper we quantify the differences in projections among atmosphere-ocean general circulation models of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project in terms of transient climate response, ocean heat uptake efficiency and expansion efficiency of heat. The CMIP3 and CMIP5 ensembles have statistically indistinguishable distributions in these parameters. The ocean heat uptake efficiency varies by a factor of two across the models, explaining about 50% of the spread in ocean heat uptake in CMIP5 models with CO2increasing at 1%/year. It correlates with the ocean global-mean vertical profiles both of temperature and of temperature change, and comparison with observations suggests the models may overestimate ocean heat uptake and underestimate surface warming, because their stratification is too weak. The models agree on the location of maxima of shallow ocean heat uptake (above 700 m) in the Southern Ocean and the North Atlantic, and on deep ocean heat uptake (below 2000 m) in areas of the Southern Ocean, in some places amounting to 40% of the top-to-bottom integral in the CMIP3 SRES A1B scenario. The Southern Ocean dominates global ocean heat uptake; consequently the eddy-induced thickness diffusivity parameter, which is particularly influential in the Southern Ocean, correlates with the ocean heat uptake efficiency. The thermal expansion produced by ocean heat uptake is 0.12 m YJ−1, with an uncertainty of about 10% (1 YJ = 1024 J).