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Nature. 2008 Nov 27;456(7221):489-92. doi: 10.1038/nature07426.

Agulhas leakage dynamics affects decadal variability in Atlantic overturning circulation.

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Leibniz-Institut für Meereswissenschaften, Düsternbrooker Weg 20, 24105 Kiel, Germany.


Predicting the evolution of climate over decadal timescales requires a quantitative understanding of the dynamics that govern the meridional overturning circulation (MOC). Comprehensive ocean measurement programmes aiming to monitor MOC variations have been established in the subtropical North Atlantic (RAPID, at latitude 26.5 degrees N, and MOVE, at latitude 16 degrees N) and show strong variability on intraseasonal to interannual timescales. Observational evidence of longer-term changes in MOC transport remains scarce, owing to infrequent sampling of transoceanic sections over past decades. Inferences based on long-term sea surface temperature records, however, supported by model simulations, suggest a variability with an amplitude of +/-1.5-3 Sv (1 Sv = 10(6) m(3) s(-1)) on decadal timescales in the subtropics. Such variability has been attributed to variations of deep water formation in the sub-arctic Atlantic, particularly the renewal rate of Labrador Sea Water. Here we present results from a model simulation that suggest an additional influence on decadal MOC variability having a Southern Hemisphere origin: dynamic signals originating in the Agulhas leakage region at the southern tip of Africa. These contribute a MOC signal in the tropical and subtropical North Atlantic that is of the same order of magnitude as the northern source. A complete rationalization of observed MOC changes therefore also requires consideration of signals arriving from the south.

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