EGU24-12828, updated on 09 Mar 2024
EGU General Assembly 2024
© Author(s) 2024. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Reinforcing fast and slow carbon responses to atmospheric events in the subpolar North Atlantic 

Richard Williams and Hemant Khatri
Richard Williams and Hemant Khatri
  • Liverpool University, School of Environmental Sciences, Earth, Ocean & Ecological Sciences, Liverpool, United Kingdom of Great Britain – England, Scotland, Wales (

Thermal variability in the subpolar North Atlantic Ocean may be understood in terms of opposing fast and slow responses to atmospheric events, such as involving the response to the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). What is unclear is the associated ocean carbon response to atmospheric events, and how that response differs from the thermal response? Here, we diagnose the output from a full Earth system model, UKESM1 piControl simulation integrated over 1100 years, and analyse the transient response to a composite NAO event, derived from combining 270 NAO+ and 246 NAO- individual events. The carbon response is then separated into a fast and slow response to the onset of a single NAO event. During a NAO+ event, there is an initial local response extending over the first one to two years involving anomalous surface cooling and air-sea uptake of carbon in the subpolar gyre. Consequently, there is a reduction in heat storage and an increase in ocean dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), together with enhanced mixed-layer entrainment of nutrients leading to an increase in biological export of carbon. There is then a delayed response extending for a further 10 years, involving an influx of warm and salty waters through ocean advection, which also carries an increase in both alkalinity and dissolved inorganic carbon. Hence, the ocean thermal and carbon responses  involve  a combination of fast, local responses to atmospheric  forcing (involving air-sea exchange, entrainment and biological export) plus a slow, far-field response to prior atmospheric events (involving ocean redistribution of heat, salt, alkalinity and carbon together with continued air-sea exchange). The thermal and carbon responses differ in that the thermal response involves opposing signs in the fast and slow contributions, while the carbon response involves reinforcing fast and slow contributions. This asymmetry is primarily due to opposing signs in the fast contributions with surface cooling leading to a reduction in heat storage, but an increase in carbon storage. Hence, the ocean memory of an atmospheric event is greater for carbon than for heat. 

How to cite: Williams, R. and Khatri, H.: Reinforcing fast and slow carbon responses to atmospheric events in the subpolar North Atlantic , EGU General Assembly 2024, Vienna, Austria, 14–19 Apr 2024, EGU24-12828,, 2024.