The transient response of atmospheric and oceanic heat transports to anthropogenic warming

Abstract

Model projections of the near-future response to anthropogenic warming show compensation between meridional heat transports by the atmosphere (AHT) and ocean (OHT) that are largely symmetric about the equator1,2,3, the causes of which remain unclear. Here, using both the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 archive and Community Climate System Model version 4 simulations forced with Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 to 2600, we show that this transient compensation—specifically during the initial stage of warming—is caused by combined changes in both atmospheric and oceanic circulations. In particular, it is caused by a southward OHT associated with a weakened Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a northward apparent OHT associated with an ocean heat storage maximum around the Southern Ocean, and a symmetric coupled response of the Hadley and Subtropical cells in the Indo-Pacific basin. It is further shown that the true advective OHT differs from the flux-inferred OHT in the initial warming due to the inhomogeneous responses of ocean heat storage. These results provide new insights to further our understanding of future heat transport responses, and thereby global climatic processes such as the redistribution of ocean heat.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Changes in meridional heat transport between an historical CCSM4 run for 1900–2000 and CCSM4 RCP8.5 runs for the twenty-first and twenty-sixth centuries.
Fig. 2: Evolution of climate from the pre-industrial era (1850) to the end of the twenty-sixth century (2600).
Fig. 3: Response of OHT between historical (1900–2000) and twenty-first-century RCP8.5 runs (2006–2100) of the coupled CCSM4 model.
Fig. 4: Ocean heat content and temperature change, as calculated from CCSM4 modelling and observations.

Data availability

The CMIP5 data used in this study can be downloaded from the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (http://cmip-pcmdi.llnl.gov/cmip5/data_portal.html). The CESM-LE data can be found at http://www.cesm.ucar.edu/projects/community-projects/LENS/. The CCSM4 data and the data supporting the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.

References

  1. 1.

    Held, I. & Soden, B. J. Robust response of the hydrological cycle to global warming. J. Clim. 19, 5686–5699 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Zelinka, M. D. & Hartmann, D. L. Climate feedbacks and their implications for poleward energy flux changes in a warming climate. J. Clim. 25, 608–624 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Hu, A., Meehl, G. A., Han, W., Lu, J. & Strand, W. G. Energy balance in a warm world without the ocean conveyor belt and sea ice. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 6242–6246 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Ganachaud, A. & Wunsch, C. Improved estimates of global ocean circulation, heat transport and mixing from hydrographic data. Nature 408, 453–457 (2000).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Collins, M. et al. Challenges and opportunities for improved understanding of regional climate dynamics. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 101–108 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Hwang, Y. T. & Frierson, D. M. W. Increasing atmospheric poleward energy transport with global warming. Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, 1–5 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Bjerknes, J. Atlantic air–sea interaction. Adv. Geophys. 10, 1–82 (1964).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Zhao, Y., Yang, H. & Liu, Z. Assessing Bjerknes compensation for climate variability and its time-scale dependence. J. Clim. 29, 5501–5512 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Liu, Z. et al. Local and remote responses of atmospheric and oceanic heat transports to climate forcing: compensation versus collaboration. J. Clim. 31, 6445–6460 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Yang, H., Zhao, Y. & Liu, Z. Understanding Bjerknes compensation in atmosphere and ocean heat transports using a coupled box model. J. Clim. 29, 2145–2160 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Gleckler, P. J., Durack, P. J., Stouffer, R. J., Johnson, G. C. & Forest, C. E. Industrial-era global ocean heat uptake doubles in recent decades. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 394–398 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Federation, K. R. & Lynne, D. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) 255–316 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

  13. 13.

    Gregory, J. M. et al. A model intercomparison of changes in the Atlantic thermohaline circulation in response to increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, 1–5 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Sévellec, F., Fedorov, A. V. & Liu, W. Arctic sea-ice decline weakens the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 604–610 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Weaver, A. J. et al. Stability of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation: a model intercomparison. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, 1–8 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Yang, H., Wang, Y. & Liu, Z. A modelling study of the Bjerknes compensation in the meridional heat transport in a freshening ocean. Tellus A 65, 1–8 (2013).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Yang, Q. et al. Understanding Bjerknes compensation in meridional heat transports and the role of freshwater in a warming climate. J. Clim. 31, 4791–4806 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Kang, S. M., Held, I. M., Frierson, D. M. W. & Zhao, M. The response of the ITCZ to extratropical thermal forcing: idealized slab-ocean experiments with a GCM. J. Clim. 21, 3521–3532 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Gent, P. R. et al. The Community Climate System Model version 4. J. Clim. 24, 4973–4991 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Kay, J. E. et al. The Community Earth System Model (CESM) Large Ensemble project: a community resource for studying climate change in the presence of internal climate variability. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 96, 1333–1349 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Taylor, K. E., Stouffer, R. J. & Meehl, G. A. An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Lu, J. & Cai, M. Quantifying contributions to polar warming amplification in an idealized coupled general circulation model. Clim. Dynam. 34, 669–687 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Shaw, T. A. et al. Storm track processes and the opposing influences of climate change. Nat. Geosci. 9, 656–664 (2016).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Chang, E. K. M., Guo, Y. & Xia, X. CMIP5 multimodel ensemble projection of storm track change under global warming. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 117, 1–19 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Vecchi, G. A. et al. Weakening of tropical Pacific atmospheric circulation due to anthropogenic forcing. Nature 441, 73–76 (2006).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Liu, Z., Philander, S. G. H. & Pacanowski, R. C. A GCM study of tropical–subtropical upper-ocean water exchange. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 24, 2606–2623 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Held, I. M. The partitioning of the poleward energy transport between the tropical ocean and atmosphere. J. Atmos. Sci. 58, 943–948 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Back, L. et al. Global hydrological cycle response to rapid and slow global warming. J. Clim. 26, 8781–8786 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Armour, K. C., Marshall, J., Scott, J. R., Donohoe, A. & Newsom, E. R. Southern Ocean warming delayed by circumpolar upwelling and equatorward transport. Nat. Geosci. 9, 549–554 (2016).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Liu, W., Lu, J., Xie, S.-P. & Fedorov, A. Southern Ocean heat uptake, redistribution and storage in a warming climate: the role of meridional overturning circulation. J. Clim. 31, 4727–4743 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Levitus, S. et al. World ocean heat content and thermosteric sea level change (0–2000m), 1955–2010. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, 1–5 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Roemmich, D. et al. Unabated planetary warming and its ocean structure since 2006. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 240–245 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Liu, Z., Yang, H., He, C. & Zhao, Y. A theory for Bjerknes compensation: the role of climate feedback. J. Clim. 29, 191–208 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Green, B. & Marshall, J. Coupling of trade winds with ocean circulation damps ITCZ shifts. J. Clim. 30, 4395–4411 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Jansen, M. F., Nadeau, L. P. & Merlis, T. M. Transient versus equilibrium response of the ocean’s overturning circulation to warming. J. Clim. 31, 5147–5163 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Huang, B. et al. Extended Reconstructed Sea Surface Temperature, version 5 (ERSSTv5): upgrades, validations, and intercomparisons. J. Clim. 30, 8179–8205 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Kalnay, E. et al. The NCEP/NCAR 40-year reanalysis project. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 77, 437–471 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Gent, P. R. & Mcwilliams, J. C. Isopycnal mixing in ocean circulation models. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 20, 150–155 (1990).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This work is supported by MOST 2017YFA0603801, NSFC41630527, NSF1656907, NSF1810682 and the Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology. We thank Q. Li and J. Han for a discussion on meridional heat transport calculation in CCSM4, and L. Franchisteguy, A. Voldoire and H. Haak for discussions on meridional heat transport calculations in CMIP5 models. We acknowledge the climate modelling groups for producing model outputs, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison for maintaining the CMIP5 data archive from which we drew the data, and the CESM community for providing the CESM-LE product. We also acknowledge the high-performance computing support from NCAR’s Computational and Information Systems Laboratory, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Portions of this study are supported by the Regional and Global Model Analysis component of the Earth and Environmental System Modeling programme of the US Department of Energy’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research Cooperative Agreement number DE-FC02-97ER62402, and the National Science Foundation. This research also uses resources of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center supported by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy under contract number DE-AC02-05CH11231. Finally, this work could not have been completed without xcesm—a decent Python package (https://github.com/Yefee/xcesm) based on Xarray (http://xarray.pydata.org/en/stable/) for CESM output diagnosis.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

C.H. and Z.L designed the study. C.H. performed the analysis. A.H. provided CESM simulation data. Z.L. and C.H. wrote the manuscript with input from A.H.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Chengfei He or Zhengyu Liu.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Journal peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Yen-Ting Hwan and other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Table 1, Supplementary Figures 1–8, Supplementary References

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

He, C., Liu, Z. & Hu, A. The transient response of atmospheric and oceanic heat transports to anthropogenic warming. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 222–226 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0387-3

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing