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  02 Oct 2020

02 Oct 2020

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

Anthropogenic aerosol forcing of the AMOC and the associated mechanisms in CMIP6 models

Taufiq Hassan1, Robert J. Allen1, Wei Liu1, and Cynthia Randles2 Taufiq Hassan et al.
  • 1Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of California Riverside, Riverside, CA, 92521 USA
  • 2ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company, Annandale, NJ, USA

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 all forcing (GHGs, anthropogenic and volcanic aerosols, solar variability, and land use/land change) multi-model mean shows negligible AMOC changes up to ~1950, followed by robust AMOC strengthening during the second half of the 20th century (~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. 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. Although aspects of the CMIP6 all-forcing multi-model mean response resembles observations, notable differences exist. This includes CMIP6 AMOC strengthening from ~1950–1990, 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 1950–1990 (and even from 1930–1990) 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.

Taufiq Hassan et al.

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Taufiq Hassan et al.

Taufiq Hassan et al.


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