Anthropogenic aerosol forcing of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation and the associated mechanisms in CMIP6 models.

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Date: Apr. 19, 2021
From: Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics(Vol. 21, Issue 8)
Publisher: Copernicus GmbH
Document Type: Article
Length: 604 words

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Abstract :

By regulating the global transport of heat, freshwater, and carbon, the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) serves as an important component of the climate system. During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, indirect observations and models suggest a weakening of the AMOC. Direct AMOC observations also suggest a weakening during the early 21st century but with substantial interannual variability. Long-term weakening of the AMOC has been associated with increasing greenhouse gases (GHGs), but some modeling studies suggest the build up of anthropogenic aerosols (AAs) may have offset part of the GHG-induced weakening. Here, we quantify 1900-2020 AMOC variations and assess the driving mechanisms in state-of-the-art climate models from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 6 (CMIP6). The CMIP6 forcing (GHGs, anthropogenic and volcanic aerosols, solar variability, and land use and land change) multi-model mean shows negligible AMOC changes up to â¼ 1950, followed by robust AMOC strengthening during the second half of the 20th century (â¼ 1950-1990) and weakening afterwards (1990-2020). These multi-decadal AMOC variations are related to changes in North Atlantic atmospheric circulation, including an altered sea level pressure gradient, storm track activity, surface winds, and heat fluxes, which drive changes in the subpolar North Atlantic surface density flux. To further investigate these AMOC relationships, we perform a regression analysis and decompose these North Atlantic climate responses into an anthropogenic aerosol-forced component and a subsequent AMOC-related feedback. Similar to previous studies, CMIP6 GHG simulations yield robust AMOC weakening, particularly during the second half of the 20th century. Changes in natural forcings, including solar variability and volcanic aerosols, yield negligible AMOC changes. In contrast, CMIP6 AA simulations yield robust AMOC strengthening (weakening) in response to increasing (decreasing) anthropogenic aerosols. Moreover, the CMIP6 all-forcing AMOC variations and atmospheric circulation responses also occur in the CMIP6 AA simulations, which suggests these are largely driven by changes in anthropogenic aerosol emissions. More specifically, our results suggest that AMOC multi-decadal variability is initiated by North Atlantic aerosol optical thickness perturbations to net surface shortwave radiation and sea surface temperature (and hence sea surface density), which in turn affect sea level pressure gradient and surface wind and - via latent and sensible heat fluxes - sea surface density flux through its thermal component. AMOC-related feedbacks act to reinforce this aerosol-forced AMOC response, largely due to changes in sea surface salinity (and hence sea surface density), with temperature-related (and cloud-related) feedbacks acting to mute the initial response. Although aspects of the CMIP6 all-forcing multi-model mean response resembles observations, notable differences exist. This includes CMIP6 AMOC strengthening from â¼ 1950 to 1990, when the indirect estimates suggest AMOC weakening. The CMIP6 multi-model mean also underestimates the observed increase in North Atlantic ocean heat content, and although the CMIP6 North Atlantic atmospheric circulation responses - particularly the overall patterns - are similar to observations, the simulated responses are weaker than those observed, implying they are only partially externally forced. The possible causes of these differences include internal climate variability, observational uncertainties, and model shortcomings, including excessive aerosol forcing. A handful of CMIP6 realizations yield AMOC evolution since 1900 similar to the indirect observations, implying the inferred AMOC weakening from 1950 to 1990 (and even from 1930 to 1990) may have a significant contribution from internal (i.e., unforced) climate variability. Nonetheless, CMIP6 models yield robust, externally forced AMOC changes, the bulk of which are due to anthropogenic aerosols.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A658982808