Articles | Volume 13, issue 4
Ocean Sci., 13, 609–622, 2017
Ocean Sci., 13, 609–622, 2017

Research article 26 Jul 2017

Research article | 26 Jul 2017

North Atlantic deep water formation and AMOC in CMIP5 models

Céline Heuzé Céline Heuzé
  • Department of Marine Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Box 115, 405 30 Göteborg, Sweden

Abstract. Deep water formation in climate models is indicative of their ability to simulate future ocean circulation, carbon and heat uptake, and sea level rise. Present-day temperature, salinity, sea ice concentration and ocean transport in the North Atlantic subpolar gyre and Nordic Seas from 23 CMIP5 (Climate Model Intercomparison Project, phase 5) models are compared with observations to assess the biases, causes and consequences of North Atlantic deep convection in models. The majority of models convect too deep, over too large an area, too often and too far south. Deep convection occurs at the sea ice edge and is most realistic in models with accurate sea ice extent, mostly those using the CICE model. Half of the models convect in response to local cooling or salinification of the surface waters; only a third have a dynamic relationship between freshwater coming from the Arctic and deep convection. The models with the most intense deep convection have the warmest deep waters, due to a redistribution of heat through the water column. For the majority of models, the variability of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is explained by the volumes of deep water produced in the subpolar gyre and Nordic Seas up to 2 years before. In turn, models with the strongest AMOC have the largest heat export to the Arctic. Understanding the dynamical drivers of deep convection and AMOC in models is hence key to realistically forecasting Arctic oceanic warming and its consequences for the global ocean circulation, cryosphere and marine life.

Short summary
Climate models are the best tool available to estimate the ocean’s response to climate change, notably sea level rise. To trust the models, we need to compare them to the real ocean in key areas. Here we do so in the North Atlantic, where deep waters form, and show that inaccurate location, extent and frequency of the formation impact the representation of the global ocean circulation and how much heat enters the Arctic. We also study the causes of the errors in order to improve future models.