Observed mechanisms activating the recent subpolar North Atlantic Warming since 2016


The overturning circulation of the subpolar North Atlantic (SPNA) plays a fundamental role in Earth’s climate variability and change. Here, we show from observations that the recent warming period since about 2016 in the eastern SPNA involves increased western boundary density at the intergyre boundary, likely due to enhanced buoyancy forcing as a response to the strong increase in the North Atlantic Oscillation since the early 2010s. As these deep positive density anomalies spread southward along the western boundary, they enhance the North Atlantic Current and associated meridional heat transport at the intergyre region, leading to increased influx of subtropical heat into the eastern SPNA. Based on the timing of this chain of events, we conclude that this recent warming phase since about 2016 is primarily associated with this observed mechanism of changes in deep western boundary density, an essential element in these interactions.

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A
Eleanor Frajka-Williams
Eleanor Frajka-Williams
Professor of Ocean Dynamics in a Changing Climate

I am a physical oceanographer who uses ocean observations to investigate ocean dynamics and circulation in a changing climate. I have a particular interest in problems spanning scales (from micro- to large-scale) or spheres (biogeosphere, cryosphere, atmosphere), and in methods that leverage traditional observations with new platforms and satellite data.