Simulating Heinrich event 1 with interactive icebergs

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During the last glacial, major abrupt climate events known as Heinrich events left distinct fingerprints of ice rafted detritus, and are thus associated with iceberg armadas; the release of many icebergs into the North Atlantic Ocean. We simulated the impact of a large armada of icebergs on glacial climate in a coupled atmosphere-ocean model. In our model, dynamic-thermodynamic icebergs influence the climate through two direct effects. First, melting of the icebergs causes freshening of the upper ocean, and second, the latent heat used in the phase-transition of ice to water results in cooling of the iceberg surroundings. This cooling effect of icebergs is generally neglected in models. We investigated the role of the latent heat by performing a sensitivity experiment in which the cooling effect is switched off. At the peak of the simulated Heinrich event, icebergs lacking the latent heat flux are much less efficient in shutting down the meridional overturning circulation than icebergs that include both the freshening and the cooling effects. The cause of this intriguing result must be sought in the involvement of a secondary mechanism: facilitation of sea-ice formation, which can disturb deep water production at key convection sites, with consequences for the thermohaline circulation. We performed additional sensitivity experiments, designed to explore the effect of the more plausible distribution of the dynamic icebergs' melting fluxes compared to a classic hosing approach with homogeneous spreading of the melt fluxes over a section in the mid-latitude North Atlantic (NA) Ocean. The early response of the climate system is much stronger in the iceberg experiments than in the hosing experiments, which must be a distribution-effect: the dynamically distributed icebergs quickly affect western NADW formation, which synergizes with direct sea-ice facilitation, causing an earlier sea-ice expansion and climatic response. Furthermore, compared to dynamic-thermodynamic icebergs, a homogeneous hosing overestimates the fresh water flux in the Eastern Ruddiman belt, causing a fresh anomaly in the Eastern North Atlantic, leading to a delayed recovery of the circulation after the event. © 2012 The Author(s).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1373-1385
Number of pages13
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number5-6
Early online date5 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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