EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Sensitivity of ocean heat content to atmospheric forcing in the period of global warming hiatus

Chavely Albert Fernández, Armin Köhl, and Detlef Stammer
Chavely Albert Fernández et al.
  • University of Hamburg, Institute of Oceanography, Remote Sensing and Assimilation, Germany (

Between 1998 and 2012, there was a smaller rate of global warming, known as the "global warming hiatus". One of the suggested causes is that during this period additional heat sequestration occurs into the deep ocean layers such that deep layers warm at a greater rate than the upper layers. This research is focused on the origins of changes in ocean heat content during the hiatus period, defined in this case as the last 10 years of adjoint model run, where the cost function is defined. Adjoint sensitivities are used to determine the influence of atmospheric forcing (heat and freshwater fluxes and wind stress) on the ocean heat content.

The MIT General Circulation Model with a resolution of 2° x 2° is used over the period 1978-2008 to determine adjoint sensitivities of the globally and temporally (over the last 10 years, defined as hiatus period) integrated vertical heat fluxes across various depth levels. The contributions of different forcing components to the vertical heat flux anomalies are obtained from the scalar product between sensitivities and the anomalies of the atmospheric forcing.  For this, the atmospheric forcing anomalies are computed with respect to the climatology calculated over the period 1948-1968 when there was almost no change in the ocean heat content.

A more pronounced increase in ocean heat uptake during the hiatus period has been evidenced by the forward run of the model. Wind anomalies represent more than half of the contribution to the increase in heat flux across 300m, suggesting that the excess of heat stored by the ocean is transferred adiabatically to the deeper layers and that the zonal wind is one of the major drivers of ocean heat uptake. In the Southern Ocean, the sensitivities to the wind stress change from positive to negative when the hiatus starts. This indicates that, during the hiatus, the rate of change of ocean heat content is opposite to the one of the wind stress. The Southern Ocean presents smaller values of the computed amplitude weighted mean time, meaning that this region has the fastest response to changes in surface atmospheric forcing.

How to cite: Albert Fernández, C., Köhl, A., and Stammer, D.: Sensitivity of ocean heat content to atmospheric forcing in the period of global warming hiatus, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-1985,, 2023.