Importance of Circulation Changes to Atlantic Heat Storage Rates on Seasonal and Interannual Time Scales

Author: Rui M. Ponte and Christopher Piecuch
January 5, 2012
Journal Article
Journal of Climate

Piecuch, Christopher G., Rui M. Ponte, 2012: Importance of Circulation Changes to Atlantic Heat Storage Rates on Seasonal and Interannual Time Scales. J. Climate, 25, 350–362.

Ocean heat budgets and transports are diagnosed to elucidate the importance of general circulation changes to Atlantic Ocean heat storage rates. The focus is on low- and midlatitude regions and on seasonal and interannual time scales. An estimate of the ocean state over 1993–2004, produced by a coarse-resolution general circulation model fit to observations via the method of Lagrange multipliers, is used. Meridional heat transports are first decomposed into contributions from time-mean and time-variable velocity and temperature and second from zonally symmetric baroclinic (overturning, including Ekman) and zonally asymmetric (gyre and other spatially correlated) circulations. Heat storage rates are then ascribed to ocean–atmosphere heat exchanges, diffusive mixing, and advective processes related to the various components of the meridional heat transport. Results show that seasonal heat storage changes generally represent a local response to surface heat inputs, but seasonal advective changes are also important near the equator. Interannual heat storage rate anomalies are mostly due to advection in tropical regions, whereas both surface heat fluxes and advection contribute at higher latitudes. Low-latitude advection can be primarily attributed to zonally symmetric baroclinic circulations, but temperature variations and zonally asymmetric flows can contribute elsewhere. A relationship between interannual heat storage rates in the equatorial Atlantic’s top 100 m and meridional heat transport associated with the zonally symmetric baroclinic flow is observed; however, due in part to the role of shallow advective processes at these latitudes, any direct relationship between sea surface temperature variability and heat transport changes associated with intermediate or deep meridional overturning circulations is not clear.