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Influence of the Gulf Stream on the troposphere

Abstract

The Gulf Stream transports large amounts of heat from the tropics to middle and high latitudes, and thereby affects weather phenomena such as cyclogenesis1,2 and low cloud formation3. But its climatic influence, on monthly and longer timescales, remains poorly understood. In particular, it is unclear how the warm current affects the free atmosphere above the marine atmospheric boundary layer. Here we consider the Gulf Stream’s influence on the troposphere, using a combination of operational weather analyses, satellite observations and an atmospheric general circulation model4. Our results reveal that the Gulf Stream affects the entire troposphere. In the marine boundary layer, atmospheric pressure adjustments to sharp sea surface temperature gradients lead to surface wind convergence, which anchors a narrow band of precipitation along the Gulf Stream. In this rain band, upward motion and cloud formation extend into the upper troposphere, as corroborated by the frequent occurrence of very low cloud-top temperatures. These mechanisms provide a pathway by which the Gulf Stream can affect the atmosphere locally, and possibly also in remote regions by forcing planetary waves5,6. The identification of this pathway may have implications for our understanding of the processes involved in climate change, because the Gulf Stream is the upper limb of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, which has varied in strength in the past7 and is predicted to weaken in response to human-induced global warming in the future8.

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Figure 1: Annual climatology of surface parameters.
Figure 2: Annual climatology of rain rate.
Figure 3: Annual climatology of parameters connecting MABL and free atmosphere.

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Acknowledgements

We thank M. Watanabe and K. Yamazaki for discussions. S.M., N.K. and A.K.-Y. were supported by a Grant-in-aid for Scientific Research (kaken-hi) and S.M. was supported by the 21st Century Center of Excellence programme ‘Neo-Science of Natural History’ led by H. Okada, both from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan. S.-P.X. was supported by NASA, NOAA, NSF and JAMSTEC. The numerical calculation was carried out on the Earth Simulator supported by JAMSTEC.

Author Contributions S.M. analysed satellite and operational data, N.K. and A.K.-Y. conducted and analysed AGCM experiments, R.J.S. conducted experiments using a linear baroclinic model and analysed the results, and S.M. and S.-P.X. wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Shoshiro Minobe.

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The file contains Supplementary Figures S1-S5 with Legends and additional references. (PDF 4033 kb)

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Minobe, S., Kuwano-Yoshida, A., Komori, N. et al. Influence of the Gulf Stream on the troposphere. Nature 452, 206–209 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature06690

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