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Indo-Pacific Warming Induced by a Weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation

Sun, Shantong and Thompson, Andrew F. and Xie, Shang-Ping and Long, Shang-Min (2022) Indo-Pacific Warming Induced by a Weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. Journal of Climate, 35 (2). pp. 815-832. ISSN 0894-8755. doi:10.1175/jcli-d-21-0346.1.

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The reorganization of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) is often associated with changes in Earth’s climate. These AMOC changes are communicated to the Indo-Pacific basins via wave processes and induce an overturning circulation anomaly that opposes the Atlantic changes on decadal to centennial time scales. We examine the role of this transient, interbasin overturning response, driven by an AMOC weakening, both in an ocean-only model with idealized geometry and in a coupled CO₂ quadrupling experiment, in which the ocean warms on two distinct time scales: a fast decadal surface warming and a slow centennial subsurface warming. We show that the transient interbasin overturning produces a zonal heat redistribution between the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific basins. Following a weakened AMOC, an anomalous northward heat transport emerges in the Indo-Pacific, which substantially compensates for the Atlantic southward heat transport anomaly. This zonal heat redistribution manifests as a thermal interbasin seesaw between the high-latitude North Atlantic and the subsurface Indo-Pacific and helps to explain why Antarctic temperature records generally show more gradual changes than the Northern Hemisphere during the last glacial period. In the coupled CO₂ quadrupling experiment, we find that the interbasin heat transport due to a weakened AMOC contributes substantially to the slow centennial subsurface warming in the Indo-Pacific, accounting for more than half of the heat content increase and sea level rise. Thus, our results suggest that the transient interbasin overturning circulation is a key component of the global ocean heat budget in a changing climate.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription
Sun, Shantong0000-0002-6932-5589
Thompson, Andrew F.0000-0003-0322-4811
Additional Information:© 2021 American Meteorological Society. Manuscript received 30 April 2021, in final form 24 October 2021. Without implying their endorsement, we thank Emily Newsom, Laure Zanna, Spencer Jones, and Dave Bonan for helpful discussions. We are also grateful for constructive comments from Christopher Wolfe and two anonymous reviewers that helped to improve this manuscript. SS and AFT were supported by NSF Award OCE-1756956 and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation. SL acknowledges support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (42076208 and 41706026). The computations presented here were conducted in the Resnick High Performance Center, a facility supported by Resnick Sustainability Institute at the California Institute of Technology. Data availability statement: The CCSM4 model output was downloaded from the Climate Data Gateway at NCAR ( The code for reproducing the MITgcm ocean-only simulations is provided at the online open access repository, figshare (
Group:Resnick Sustainability Institute
Funding AgencyGrant Number
David and Lucile Packard FoundationUNSPECIFIED
National Natural Science Foundation of China42076208
National Natural Science Foundation of China41706026
Resnick Sustainability InstituteUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:Meridional overturning circulation; Climate change; General circulation models
Issue or Number:2
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20220616-652525900
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Official Citation:Sun, S., Thompson, A. F., Xie, S., & Long, S. (2022). Indo-Pacific Warming Induced by a Weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, Journal of Climate, 35(2), 815-832; DOI: 10.1175/jcli-d-21-0346.1
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:115186
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:21 Jun 2022 22:33
Last Modified:21 Jun 2022 22:33

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