Increased sensitivity of the North Atlantic Ocean circulation to freshwater forcing in simulated mild versus cold glacial climates

C.J.V.C. van Meerbeeck, D.M.V.A.P. Roche, H. Renssen

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    A striking characteristic of glacial climate in the North Atlantic region is the recurrence of abrupt shifts between cold stadials and mild interstadials. These shifts have been associated with abrupt changes in Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) mode, possibly in response to glacial meltwater perturbations. However, it is poorly understood why they were more clearly expressed during Marine Isotope Stage 3 (MIS3, ~60-27 ka BP) than during Termination 1 (T1, ~18-10 ka BP) and especially around the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, ~23-19 ka BP). One clue may reside in varying climate forcings, making MIS3 and T1 generally milder than LGM. To investigate this idea, we evaluate in a climate model how ice sheet size, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration and orbital insolation changes between 56 ka BP (=56k), 21k and 12. 5k affect the glacial AMOC response to additional freshwater forcing. We have performed three ensemble simulations with the earth system model LOVECLIM using those forcings. We find that the AMOC mode in the mild glacial climate type (56k and 12. 5k), with deep convection in the Labrador Sea and the Nordic Seas, is more sensitive to a constant 0. 15 Sv freshwater forcing than in the cold type (21k), with deep convection mainly south of Greenland and Iceland. The initial AMOC weakening in response to freshwater forcing is larger in the mild type due to an early shutdown of Labrador Sea deep convection, which is completely absent in the 21k simulation. This causes a larger fraction of the freshwater anomaly to remain at surface in the mild type compared to the cold type. After 200 years, a weak AMOC is established in both climate types, as further freshening is compensated by an anomalous salt advection from the (sub-)tropical North Atlantic. However, the slightly fresher sea surface in the mild type facilitates further weakening of the AMOC, which occurs when a surface buoyancy threshold (-0. 6 kg m
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1909-1927
    Number of pages19
    JournalClimate Dynamics
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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