A hemispheric asymmetry in poleward ocean heat transport across climates: Implications for overturning and polar warming
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A hemispheric asymmetry in poleward ocean heat transport across climates: Implications for overturning and polar warming

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  • Journal Title:
    Earth and Planetary Science Letters
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    The modern Indo-Pacific oceans absorb more heat from the atmosphere than they release. The resulting energy surplus is exported from the Indo-Pacific by the ocean circulation and lost to the atmosphere from other ocean basins. This heat transport ultimately sustains much of the buoyancy lost to deep water formation at high latitudes, a key component of the global overturning circulation. Despite the fundamental link between inter-basin ocean heat transport and global overturning in today's climate, there is no general understanding of how these phenomena vary with climate state. Here, we use an unprecedented suite of fully-coupled climate model simulations, equilibrated for thousands of years to a wide range of CO2 levels, to demonstrate that major differences in overturning between climates are related to systematic shifts in ocean heat transport between basins. Uniformly, equilibration to higher CO2 levels strengthens inter-basin ocean heat transport and global deep water formation. These changes are sustained by increased surface heat uptake within the Indo-Pacific oceans, and increased high-latitude heat loss outside of the Indo-Pacific oceans as the climate warms. However, poleward heat transport and high-latitude heat loss do not increase symmetrically between hemispheres. Between glacial and modern-like states, North Atlantic heat loss intensifies and overturning in the Atlantic strengthens. In contrast, between modern-like and hot climates, heat loss and overturning strengthens in the Southern Ocean. We propose that these differences are linked to a shift in the relative efficiency of northward and southward ocean heat transport — dominated by advection in the North Atlantic and eddy diffusion in the Southern Ocean — with climate state. Our results suggest that, under high CO2, future ocean heat transport towards Antarctica would increase disproportionately compared to its changes since the last ice age.
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    Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 568, 117033
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    Accepted Manuscript
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