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Atmospheric origins of variability in the South Atlantic meridional overturning circulation
  • Timothy Smith,
  • Patrick Heimbach
Timothy Smith
The Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin

Corresponding Author:tsmith@oden.utexas.edu

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Patrick Heimbach
The Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences; Jackson School of Geosciences; Institute for Geophysics; The University of Texas at Austin
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Insights from the RAPID–MOCHA observation network in the North Atlantic have motivated a recent focus on the South Atlantic, where water masses are exchanged with the neighboring Indian and Pacific ocean basins. Moreover, the South Atlantic meridional overturning circulation basin-wide array (SAMBA) was recently launched to monitor variability in the South Atlantic MOC (SAMOC) at 34.5ºS. In this study, we are interested in understanding the processes which generate volume transport variability that would be observed at this latitude band. To perform this attribution, we compute sensitivities of the SAMOC at 34ºS to atmospheric state variables (e.g. wind stress, precipitation) using the adjoint of a global ocean model which is fit to a vast number of ocean observations over the past 20 years. These sensitivities isolate the impact from each atmospheric variable, and highlight the oceanic mechanisms, such as Kelvin and Rossby waves, which carry atmospheric forcing perturbations to the SAMOC. The domain of influence for the SAMOC is shown to be quite broad, covering neighboring ocean basins even on short time scales. This result differs from what has previously been shown in the North Atlantic, where Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) variability is largely governed by dynamics confined to that basin. We convolve historical forcing variability from ERA-Interim with the computed sensitivities in order to attribute seasonal to interannual SAMOC variability to each atmospheric component. The seasonal cycle of the SAMOC is therefore shown to be largely driven by local zonal wind forcing. Interannual variability, however, is shown to have originated from remote locations across the globe, including a nontrivial component originating from the tropical Pacific. We conclude with preliminary results which employ both modeling results and an analysis of modern altimetry observations to show how El Niño Southern Oscillation variability might influence the South Atlantic.
01 Mar 2019Published in Journal of Climate volume 32 issue 5 on pages 1483-1500. 10.1175/JCLI-D-18-0311.1