South Atlantic meridional transports from NEMO-based simulations and reanalyses

Mignac, Davi; Ferreira, David; Haines, Keith

The meridional heat transport (MHT) of the South Atlantic plays a key role in the global heat budget: it is the only equatorward basin-scale ocean heat transport and it sets the northward direction of the global cross-equatorial transport. Its strength and variability, however, are not well known. The South Atlantic transports are evaluated for four state-of-the-art global ocean reanalyses (ORAs) and two free-running models (FRMs) in the period 1997–2010. All products employ the Nucleus for European Modelling of the Oceans (NEMO) model, and the ORAs share very similar configurations. Very few previous works have looked at ocean circulation patterns in reanalysis products, but here we show that the ORA basin interior transports are consistently improved by the assimilated in situ and satellite observations relative to the FRMs, especially in the Argo period. The ORAs also exhibit systematically higher meridional transports than the FRMs, which is in closer agreement with observational estimates at 35 and 11inline-formula S. However, the data assimilation impact on the meridional transports still greatly varies among the ORAs, leading to differences up to inline-formula∼ 8 Sv and 0.4 PW in the South Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation and the MHTs, respectively. We narrow this down to large inter-product discrepancies in the western boundary currents (WBCs) at both upper and deep levels explaining up to inline-formula∼ 85 % of the inter-product differences in MHT. We show that meridional velocity differences, rather than temperature differences, in the WBCs drive inline-formula∼ 83 % of this MHT spread. These findings show that the present ocean observation network and data assimilation schemes can be used to consistently constrain the South Atlantic interior circulation but not the overturning component, which is dominated by the narrow western boundary currents. This will likely limit the effectiveness of ORA products for climate or decadal prediction studies.

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Mignac, Davi / Ferreira, David / Haines, Keith: South Atlantic meridional transports from NEMO-based simulations and reanalyses. 2018. Copernicus Publications.

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