Relative Roles of Climate Sensitivity and Forcing in Defining the Ocean Circulation Response to Climate Change
Author(s)Scott, Jeffery R.; Sokolov, Andrei P.; Stone, Peter H.; Webster, Mort D.
The response of the ocean’s meridional overturning circulation (MOC) to increased greenhouse gas forcing is examined using a coupled model of intermediate complexity, including a dynamic 3D ocean subcomponent. Parameters are the increase in CO2 forcing (with stabilization after a specified time interval) and the model’s climate sensitivity. In this model, the cessation of deep sinking in the north “Atlantic” (hereinafter, a “collapse”), as indicated by changes in the MOC, behaves like a simple bifurcation. The final surface air temperature (SAT) change, which is closely predicted by the product of the radiative forcing and the climate sensitivity, determines whether a collapse occurs. The initial transient response in SAT is largely a function of the forcing increase, with higher sensitivity runs exhibiting delayed behavior; accordingly, high CO2-low sensitivity scenarios can be assessed as a recovering or collapsing circulation shortly after stabilization, whereas low CO2-high sensitivity scenarios require several hundred additional years to make such a determination. We also systemically examine how the rate of forcing, for a given CO2 stabilization, affects the ocean response. In contrast with previous studies based on results using simpler ocean models, we find that except for a narrow range of marginally stable to marginally unstable scenarios, the forcing rate has little impact on whether the run collapses or recovers. In this narrow range, however, forcing increases on a time scale of slow ocean advective processes results in weaker declines in overturning strength and can permit a run to recover that would otherwise collapse.
Abstract in HTML and technical report in PDF available on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change website (http://mit.edu/globalchange/www/).
MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change
Report no. 148
Report no. 148