Articles | Volume 8, issue 1
Earth Syst. Dynam., 8, 129–146, 2017
https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-8-129-2017
Earth Syst. Dynam., 8, 129–146, 2017
https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-8-129-2017

Research article 22 Feb 2017

Research article | 22 Feb 2017

Changes in the seasonal cycle of the Atlantic meridional heat transport in a RCP 8.5 climate projection in MPI-ESM

Matthias Fischer1, Daniela I. V. Domeisen2,3, Wolfgang A. Müller4, and Johanna Baehr1 Matthias Fischer et al.
  • 1Institute of Oceanography, Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability, Universität Hamburg, Bundesstrasse 53, 20146 Hamburg, Germany
  • 2GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Kiel, Germany
  • 3University of Kiel, Kiel, Germany
  • 4Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany

Abstract. We investigate changes in the seasonal cycle of the Atlantic Ocean meridional heat transport (OHT) in a climate projection experiment with the Max Planck Institute Earth System Model (MPI-ESM) performed for the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5). Specifically, we compare a Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) RCP 8.5 climate change scenario, covering the simulation period from 2005 to 2300, to a historical simulation, covering the simulation period from 1850 to 2005. In RCP 8.5, the OHT declines by 30–50 % in comparison to the historical simulation in the North Atlantic by the end of the 23rd century. The decline in the OHT is accompanied by a change in the seasonal cycle of the total OHT and its components. We decompose the OHT into overturning and gyre component. For the OHT seasonal cycle, we find a northward shift of 5° and latitude-dependent shifts between 1 and 6 months that are mainly associated with changes in the meridional velocity field. We find that the changes in the OHT seasonal cycle predominantly result from changes in the wind-driven surface circulation, which projects onto the overturning component of the OHT in the tropical and subtropical North Atlantic. This leads in turn to latitude-dependent shifts between 1 and 6 months in the overturning component. In comparison to the historical simulation, in the subpolar North Atlantic, in RCP 8.5 we find a reduction of the North Atlantic Deep Water formation and changes in the gyre heat transport result in a strongly weakened seasonal cycle with a weakened amplitude by the end of the 23rd century.

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Short summary
In a climate projection experiment with the Max Planck Institute Earth System Model (MPI-ESM), we find that a decline in the Atlantic Ocean meridional heat transport (OHT) is accompanied by a change in the seasonal cycle of the total OHT and its components. We found a northward shift of 5° and latitude-dependent shifts between 1 and 6 months in the seasonal cycle that are mainly associated with changes in the meridional velocity field rather than the temperature field.
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