Periodic fluctuations in deep water formation due to sea ice

21 Feb 2015  ·  Saha Raj ·

During the last ice age several quasi-periodic abrupt warming events took place. Known as Dansgaard-Oeschger (DO) events their effects were felt globally, although the North Atlantic experienced the largest temperature anomalies... Paleoclimate data shows that the fluctuations often occurred right after massive glacial meltwater releases in the North Atlantic and in bursts of three or four with progressively decreasing strengths. In this study a simple dynamical model of an overturning circulation and sea ice is developed with the goal of understanding the fundamental mechanisms that could have caused the DO events. Interaction between sea ice and the overturning circulation in the model produces self-sustained oscillations. Analysis and numerical experiments reveal that the insulating effect of sea ice causes the ocean to periodically vent out accumulated heat in the deep ocean into the atmosphere. Subjecting the model to idealized freshwater forcing mimicking Heinrich events causes modulation of the natural periodicity and produces burst patterns very similar to what is observed in temperature proxy data. Numerical experiments with the model also suggests that the characteristic period of 1,500 years is due to the geometry, or the effective heat capacity, of the ocean that comes under sea ice cover. read more

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Atmospheric and Oceanic Physics Chaotic Dynamics