Predicting the evolution of climate over decadal timescales requires a quantitative understanding of the dynamics that govern the meridional overturning circulation (MOC)1. Comprehensive ocean measurement programmes aiming to monitor MOC variations have been established in the subtropical North Atlantic2,3 (RAPID, at latitude 26.5° N, and MOVE, at latitude 16° N) and show strong variability on intraseasonal to interannual timescales. Observational evidence of longer-term changes in MOC transport remains scarce, owing to infrequent sampling of transoceanic sections over past decades4,5. Inferences based on long-term sea surface temperature records, however, supported by model simulations, suggest a variability with an amplitude of ±1.5–3 Sv (1 Sv = 106 m3 s-1) on decadal timescales in the subtropics6. Such variability has been attributed to variations of deep water formation in the sub-arctic Atlantic, particularly the renewal rate of Labrador Sea Water7. Here we present results from a model simulation that suggest an additional influence on decadal MOC variability having a Southern Hemisphere origin: dynamic signals originating in the Agulhas leakage region at the southern tip of Africa. These contribute a MOC signal in the tropical and subtropical North Atlantic that is of the same order of magnitude as the northern source. A complete rationalization of observed MOC changes therefore also requires consideration of signals arriving from the south.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Communications Earth & Environment Open Access 28 September 2021
Climate Dynamics Open Access 10 April 2021
Scientific Reports Open Access 18 November 2019
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Keenlyside, N. S., Latif, M., Jungclaus, J., Kornblueh, L. & Roeckner, E. Advancing decadal-scale climate prediction in the North Atlantic sector. Nature 453, 84–88 (2008)
Cunningham, S. A. et al. Temporal variability of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation at 26.5° N. Science 317, 935–938 (2007)
Kanzow, T., Send, U., Zenk, W., Chave, A. D. & Rhein, M. Monitoring the integrated deep meridional flow in the tropical North Atlantic: Long-term performance of a geostrophic array. Deep-Sea Res. I 53, 528–546 (2006)
Bryden, H., Longworth, H. R. & Cunningham, S. A. Slowing of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation at 25° N. Nature 438, 655–657 (2005)
Wunsch, C. Mass and volume transport variability in an eddy-filled ocean. Nature Geosci. 1, 165–168 (2008)
Latif, M. et al. Is the thermohaline circulation changing? J. Clim. 19, 4631–4637 (2006)
Böning, C. W., Scheinert, M., Dengg, J., Biastoch, A. & Funk, A. Decadal variability of subpolar gyre transport and its reverberation in the North Atlantic overturning. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33 doi: 10.1029/2006GL026906 (2005)
Gordon, A. L. Inter-ocean exchange of thermocline water. J. Geophys. Res. 91, 5037–5046 (1986)
Lutjeharms, J. R. E. The Agulhas Current (Springer, 2006)
Olson, D. B. & Evans, R. H. Rings of the Agulhas Current. Deep-Sea Res. A 33, 27–42 (1986)
De Ruijter, W. P. M. et al. Dynamics, estimation and impact of South Atlantic inter-ocean exchange. J. Geophys. Res. 104, 20885–20910 (1999)
Peeters, F. J. C. et al. Vigorous exchange between Indian and Atlantic Ocean at the end of the last five glacial periods. Nature 430, 661–665 (2004)
Weijer, W., de Ruijter, W. P. M., Dijkstra, H. A. & van Leeuwen, P. J. Impact of interbasin exchange on the Atlantic overturning circulation. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 29, 2266–2284 (1999)
Marsh, R., Hazeleger, W., Yool, A. & Rohling, E. J. Stability of the thermohaline circulation under millennial CO2 forcing and two alternative controls on Atlantic salinity. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34 doi: 10.1029/2006GL027815 (2007)
Van Leeuwen, P. J., de Ruijter, W. P. M. & Lutjeharms, J. R. E. Natal pulses and the formation of Agulhas rings. J. Geophys. Res. 105, 6425–6436 (2000)
Biastoch, A., Lutjeharms, J. R. E., Böning, C. W. & Scheinert, M. Mesoscale perturbations control inter-ocean exchange south of Africa. Geophys. Res. Lett. doi: 10.1029/2008GL035132 (in the press)
Biastoch, A., Böning, C., Getzlaff, J., Molines, J.-M. & Madec, G. Causes of interannual - decadal variability in the meridional overturning circulation of the mid-latitude North Atlantic Ocean. J. Clim. doi: 10.1175/2008JCLI2404.1 (in the press) (2008)
Debreu, L., Vouland, C. & Blayo, E. AGRIF: Adaptive grid refinement in Fortran. Computers Geosci. 34, 8–13 (2008)
Maltrud, M. E. & McClean, J. An eddy resolving global 1/10° ocean simulation. Ocean Model. 8, 31–54 (2005)
Johnson, H. L. & Marshall, D. P. A theory for the surface Atlantic response to thermohaline variability. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 32, 1121–1132 (2002)
Getzlaff, J., Böning, C. W., Eden, C. & Biastoch, A. Signal propagation related to the North Atlantic overturning. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32 doi: 10.1029/2004GL021002 (2005)
Dong, B. W. & Sutton, R. T. Adjustment of the coupled ocean-atmosphere system to a sudden change in the thermohaline circulation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 29 doi: 10.1029/2002GL015229 (2002)
Garzoli, S. L. et al. Three Agulhas rings observed during the Benguela Current Experiment. J. Geophys. Res. 104, 20971–20985 (1999)
Van Sebille, E. & van Leeuwen, P. J. Fast northward energy transfer in the Atlantic due to Agulhas rings. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 37, 2305–2315 (2007)
Van Aken, H. M. et al. Observation of a young Agulhas ring, Astrid, during MARE, the Mixing of Agulhas Rings Experiment, in March 2000. Deep-Sea Res. II 50, 167–195 (2003)
Madec, G. NEMO Ocean Engine (Note du Pôle de Modélisation, Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace, 2006)
Large, W. G. & Yeager, S. G. Diurnal to Decadal Global Forcing for Ocean and Sea-Ice Models: the Data Sets and Flux Climatologies (NCAR Technical Note NCAR/TN-460+STR, National Center for Atmospheric Research, 2004)
Gent, P. R. & McWilliams, J. C. Isopycnal mixing in ocean circulation models. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 20, 150–155 (1990)
Hsieh, W. W., Davey, M. K. & Wajsowicz, R. C. The free Kelvin wave in finite-difference numerical models. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 13, 1383–1397 (1983)
Rio, M. H., Schaeffer, P., Hernandez, F. & Lemoine, J.-M. in Gocina: Improving Modelling of Ocean Transport and Climate Prediction in the North Atlantic Region using GOCE Gravimetry (eds Knudsen, P., Johannessen, J., Gruber, T., Stammer, S & van Dam, T.) 6 pp. (Cahiers du Centre Européen de Géodynamique et de Séismologie 25, EGCS, 2005)
The integration of the experiments was performed at the Höchstleistungsrechenzentrum Stuttgart and the Computing Centre at Kiel University. We thank the NEMO and AGRIF System Teams as well as J.-M. Molines and M. Scheinert for technical support. The analysis was performed under the DFG project no. BO 907/2-2. J.R.E.L. received support from the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung.
Author Contributions A.B. and C.W.B. designed the experiments. A.B. implemented and conducted the experiments and carried out the analysis. All authors discussed the results and jointly wrote the manuscript.
About this article
Cite this article
Biastoch, A., Böning, C. & Lutjeharms, J. Agulhas leakage dynamics affects decadal variability in Atlantic overturning circulation. Nature 456, 489–492 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature07426
This article is cited by
Communications Earth & Environment (2021)
Climate Dynamics (2021)
Scientific Reports (2019)
Climate Dynamics (2019)
Decadal predictions with the HiGEM high resolution global coupled climate model: description and basic evaluation
Climate Dynamics (2017)