Sensitivity of the thermohaline circulation and climate to ocean exchanges in a simple coupled model
A new simple, coupled climate model is presented and used to investigate the sensitivity of the thermohaline circulation and climate to ocean vertical and horizontal exchange. As formulated, the model highlights the role of thin, ocean surface layers in the communication between the atmosphere and the subsurface ocean. Model vertical exchange is considered to be an analogue to small-scale, diapycnal mixing and convection (when present) in the ocean. Model horizontal exchange is considered to be an analogue to the effects of the wind-driven circulation. For small vertical exchange in the ocean, the model exhibits only one steady-state solution: a relatively cold, mid-high-latitude climate associated with a weak, salinity-driven circulation (``off '' mode). For large vertical and horizontal exchange in the ocean, the model also exhibits only one steady-state solution: a relatively warm, mid-high-latitude climate associated with a strong, thermally-driven circulation (``on'' mode). For sufficiently weak horizontal exchange but large enough vertical exchange, both modes are possible stable, steady-state solutions. When model parameters are calibrated to fit tracer distributions of the modern ocean-atmosphere system, only the ``on'' mode is possible in this standard case. This suggests that the wind-driven circulation in consort with diapycnal mixing suppresses the ``off '' mode in the modern ocean-atmosphere system. Since both diapycnal mixing and the wind-driven circulation would be expected to increase in a cold climate with greater meridional temperature gradients and enhanced winds, vertical and horizontal exchange in the ocean are probably associated with strong negative feedbacks which tend to stabilize climate. These results point to the need to resolve ocean wind-driven circulation and to greatly improve the treatment of ocean diapycnal mixing in more complete models of the climate system.