On the interpentadal variability of the North Atlantic Ocean: Model simulated changes in transport, meridional heat flux and coastal sea level between 1955–1959 and 1970–1974

Authors

  • Tal Ezer,

  • George L. Mellor,

  • Richard J. Greatbatch


Abstract

Previous studies by Greatbatch et al. (1991) indicate significant changes in the North Atlantic thermohaline structure and circulation between the pentads 1955–1959 and 1970–1974, using data analyzed by Levitus (1989a,b,c) and a simple diagnostic model by Mellor et al. (1982). In this paper these changes are modeled using a three-dimensional, free surface, coastal ocean model. Diagnostic and short-term prognostic calculations are used to infer the dynamically adjusted fields corresponding to the observed hydrographic and wind stress climatology of each pentad. While the results agree with earlier studies indicating that the Gulf Stream was considerably weaker (by about 30 Sv) during the 1970s compared to the 1950s, they also indicate some changes in the poleward heat transport, although the statistical significance of these changes relative to sampling errors in the data is not clear. The change of wind pattern between the two pentads, associated with changes in sea surface temperature, resulted in changes in the Ekman contribution to the poleward heat flux transport. The modeled sea level along the North American coast shows a sea level rise of about 5–10 cm between 1955–1959 and 1970–1974; a comparison with observed sea level at 15 tide gage stations shows good agreement. Most of the coastal sea level change is attributed to changes in thermohaline ocean circulation and wind stress; thermal expansion seems to play a lesser role. The methodology tested here demonstrates an effective way to estimate climate changes in ocean circulation and sea level from observed hydrographic data and winds using ocean models to enhance and analyze the data.

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