EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Mechanisms for Late 20th and Early 21st Century Decadal AMOC Variability

Alex Megann, Adam Blaker, Simon Josey, Adrian New, and Bablu Sinha
Alex Megann et al.
  • National Oceanography Centre, Marine Systems Modelling, Southampton, United Kingdom of Great Britain – England, Scotland, Wales (

Where earlier generations of ocean models with resolution of 1° or coarser tended to represent wintertime dense water formation in the North Atlantic mainly as a process of open water convection in the Labrador Sea and Nordic Seas, more recent models with higher resolution, in conjunction with observational programmes such as OSNAP, have presented us with a new, more complex, picture. Watermasses are progressively ventilated and lose buoyancy as they propagate cyclonically westward around the gyre, starting with the formation of Subpolar Mode Water close to the eastern boundary, and eventually leading to Labrador Sea Water, which forms part of the lower limb of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC).

We present a set of hindcast integrations of a global 1/4° NEMO ocean configuration from 1958 until nearly the present day, forced with three standard surface forcing datasets. We use the surface-forced streamfunction, estimated from surface buoyancy fluxes, along with the overturning streamfunction, similarly defined in potential density space, to investigate the causal link between surface forcing and decadal variability in the strength of the AMOC. We confirm that surface heat loss from the Irminger Sea is the dominant mechanism for decadal AMOC variability, while that from the Labrador Sea has about half the amplitude. The AMOC variability is shown to be related to that of the North Atlantic Oscillation, primarily through the surface heat flux, itself dominated by the air-sea temperature difference, and we show that a metric based on the surface-forced streamfunction has predictive value for AMOC variability on interannual to decadal time scales.

How to cite: Megann, A., Blaker, A., Josey, S., New, A., and Sinha, B.: Mechanisms for Late 20th and Early 21st Century Decadal AMOC Variability, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-4010,, 2022.

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