Article | Published:

Arctic sea-ice decline weakens the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation

Nature Climate Change volume 7, pages 604610 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

The ongoing decline of Arctic sea ice exposes the ocean to anomalous surface heat and freshwater fluxes, resulting in positive buoyancy anomalies that can affect ocean circulation. In this study, we use an optimal flux perturbation framework and comprehensive climate model simulations to estimate the sensitivity of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) to such buoyancy forcing over the Arctic and globally, and more generally to sea-ice decline. It is found that on decadal timescales, flux anomalies over the subpolar North Atlantic have the largest impact on the AMOC, while on multi-decadal timescales (longer than 20 years), flux anomalies in the Arctic become more important. These positive buoyancy anomalies spread to the North Atlantic, weakening the AMOC and its poleward heat transport. Therefore, the Arctic sea-ice decline may explain the suggested slow-down of the AMOC and the ‘Warming Hole’ persisting in the subpolar North Atlantic.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by grant to F.S. from the Natural and Environmental Research Council UK (SMURPHS, NE/N005767/1) and by grants to A.V.F. from DOE Office of Science (DE-SC0016538) and NOAA (NA14OAR4310277). Support from the Yale University High Performance Computing facilities is also acknowledged. We thank B. Dobbins for his help with setting up numerical experiments.

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Affiliations

  1. Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton, Southampton SO14 3ZH, UK

    • Florian Sévellec
  2. Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06511, USA

    • Alexey V. Fedorov
    •  & Wei Liu

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Contributions

All three authors contributed equally to the experimental design, the data analysis, and the writing of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Florian Sévellec.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3353