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Journal Article

Ocean circulation and climate change


Hasselmann,  Klaus
MPI for Meteorology, Max Planck Society;

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Hasselmann, K. (1991). Ocean circulation and climate change. Tellus, Series B - Chemical and Physical Meteorology, 43, 82-103. doi:10.3402/tellusb.v43i4.15399.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0000-E38D-1
Recent numerical simulations using global ocean circulation models are reviewed together with model experiments involving further important climate sub-systems with which the ocean interacts: the atmosphere, the air-sea interface and the global carbon cycle. A common feature of all ocean circulation experiments considered is the strong sensitivity of the circulation to relatively minor changes in surface forcing, particularly to the buoyancy fluxes in regions of deep water formation in high latitudes. This may explain some of the well-known deficiencies of past global ocean circulation simulations. The strong sensitivity may also have been the cause of rapid climate changes observed in paleoclimatic records and can lead further to significant natural climate variability on the time scales of a few hundred years through the stochastic forcing of the ocean by atmospheric weather variability. Gobal warming computations using two different coupled ocean-atmosphere models for the “business-as-usual” scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change yield a significantly stronger warming delay due to the heat uptake by the oceans in the Southern Ocean than estimated on the basis of box-diffusion models. Recent advances in surface wave modelling, illustrated by a comparison of wave height fields derived from the WAM model and the GEOSAT altimeter, hold promise for the development of an improved representation of ocean-atmosphere coupling based on an explicit description of the dynamical processes at the air-sea interface. Global carbon cycle simulations with a three dimensional carbon cycle model tuned to reproduce past variations of carbon cycle indices show a significant impact of variations in the ocean circulation on the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and thereby on climate. The series of experiments suggest that for the study of climate in the time scale range from 10−1-103 years, it would be highly desirable, and has indeed now become feasible, to couple existing, verified, climate sub-system models together in a comprehensive fully interactive model including the oceans, sea-ice, atmosphere, surface interface and the global carbon cycle.