Ocean heat uptake processes: a model intercomparison

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Exarchou, Eleftheria ; Kuhlbrodt, Till ; Gregory, Jonathan M. ; Smith, Robin S. (2015)
  • Publisher: American Meteorological Society
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-14-00235.1
  • Subject:
    arxiv: Physics::Atmospheric and Oceanic Physics

We compare the quasi-equilibrium heat balances, as well as their responses to 4×CO2 perturbation, among three global climate models with the aim to identify and explain inter-model differences in ocean heat uptake (OHU) processes. We find that, in quasi-equilibrium, convective and mixed layer processes, as well as eddy-related processes, cause cooling of the subsurface ocean. The cooling is balanced by warming caused by advective and diapycnally diffusive processes. We also find that in the CO2-perturbed climates the largest contribution to OHU comes from changes in vertical mixing processes and the mean circulation, particularly in the extra-tropics, caused both by changes in wind forcing, and by changes in high-latitude buoyancy forcing. There is a substantial warming in the tropics, a significant part of which occurs because of changes in horizontal advection in extra-tropics. Diapycnal diffusion makes only a weak contribution to the OHU, mainly in the tropics, due to increased stratification. There are important qualitative differences in the contribution of eddy-induced advection and isopycnal diffusion to the OHU among the models. The former is related to the different values of the coefficients used in the corresponding scheme. The latter is related to the different tapering formulations of the isopycnal diffusion scheme. These differences affect the OHU in the deep ocean, which is substantial in two of the models, the dominant region of deep warming being the Southern Ocean. However, most of the OHU takes place above 2000 m, and the three models are quantitatively similar in their global OHU efficiency and its breakdown among processes and as a function of latitude.
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