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In this study, the internal modes of variability of the thermohaline ocean circulation in an idealized single-hemispheric basin are investigated. The modes are determined systematically by performing linear stability analyses of fully three-dimensional thermohaline flows. Relevant for the large-scale low-frequency variability of the flows are two kinds of oscillatory modes. The modes in one of these classes, which have an interdecadal time scale, are truly three-dimensional phenomena and are characterized by westward propagating temperature anomalies, while modes in the other class have a centennial time scale. The latter modes are shown to persist as internal modes of variability of two-dimensional flows and are therefore related to overturning (or loop) oscillations. The physical mechanism of propagation of these centennial modes is described and the relevance of each class of internal modes is investigated through analysis of stochastically forced transient flows.
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