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Free Content On the mechanism of centennial thermohaline oscillations

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Centennial oscillations of the ocean thermohaline circulation are studied in a 2-D latitude-depth model under mixed boundary conditions (i.e. restoring surface temperature and prescribed freshwater flux). The oscillations are revealed through linear stability analysis of a steady state obtained in a single hemisphere configuration. A density variance budget is performed and helps determine the physical processes sustaining these oscillations: the restoring surface temperature appears as a source of density variance – this is a consequence of positively-correlated temperature and salinity anomalies. A minimal model, the Howard-Malkus loop oscillator, enables us to understand physically the oscillatory and growth mechanisms. The centennial oscillation is connected to the advection of salinity anomaly around the loop; it is also related to the salinity feedback on the overturning which reinforces anomalies through a change of residence time in the freshwater flux regions. Analytical solutions of this loop model show that these centennial oscillations exist in a specific parameter regime in terms of the freshwater flux amplitude F0: oscillations are damped if F0 is too weak, but if F0 is too large, the instability grows exponentially without oscillating–the latter regime is known as the positive salinity feedback. The robustness of these oscillations is then analyzed in more realistic bihemispheric configurations, some including a highly idealized Antarctic Circumpolar Current: oscillations are then always damped. These results are rationalized with the loop model, and compared to the oscillations found in general circulation models.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 May 2006

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  • The Journal of Marine Research publishes peer-reviewed research articles covering a broad array of topics in physical, biological and chemical oceanography. Articles that deal with processes, as well as those that report significant observations, are welcome. In the area of biology, studies involving coupling between ecological and physical processes are preferred over those that report systematics. Authors benefit from thorough reviews of their manuscripts, where an attempt is made to maximize clarity. The time between submission and publication is kept to a minimum; there is no page charge.
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