Effect of Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation Changes on Tropical Atlantic Sea Surface Temperature Variability: A 2 1/2-Layer Reduced-Gravity Ocean Model Study Academic Article uri icon


  • Abstract Previous coupled climate model simulations reveal that a dipole-like SST pattern with cooler (warmer) temperature over the north (south) tropical Atlantic emerges in response to a slowdown of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC). Using a 2-layer reduced-gravity ocean model, a systematic investigation into oceanic processes controlling the tropical Atlantic sea surface temperature (SST) response to AMOC changes by varying the strength of northward mass transport at the open boundaries was conducted. It is found that the North Brazil Current (NBC) reverses its direction in response to a shutdown of the AMOC. Such a circulation change causes a decrease in upper equatorial ocean stratification and warming in the Gulf of Guinea and off the coast of Africa. These findings point to the importance of oceanic dynamics in the equatorial SST response to AMOC changes. Sensitivity experiments further show that the SST response relates nonlinearly to AMOC changes. The strength of the SST response increases dramatically when the AMOC strength falls below a threshold value. This nonlinear threshold behavior depends on the position of a subsurface temperature gradient forming along the boundary between the northern subtropical gyre and the tropical gyre that interacts with the western boundary current. The analysis suggests that, in order for the oceanic dynamics to have a dominant influence on tropical Atlantic SST in response to AMOC changes, two conditions must be satisfied: 1) the AMOC must weaken substantially so that the NBC flows equatorward, permitting water mass exchange between the northern subtropical and tropical gyres, and 2) the subsurface temperature front must be located in an optimal location where subsurface temperature anomalies induced by AMOC change are able to enter the equatorial zone.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Wen, C., Chang, P., & Saravanan, R.

citation count

  • 12

complete list of authors

  • Wen, Caihong||Chang, Ping||Saravanan, Ramalingam

publication date

  • January 1, 2010 11:11 AM