Intensification and poleward shift of subtropical western boundary currents in a warming climate
Dr. Hu Yang
Alfred Wegener Institute, Germany
A significant increase in sea surface temperature (SST) is observed over the midlatitude western boundary currents (WBCs) during the past century. However, the mechanism for this phenomenon remains poorly understood due to limited observations. In the present paper, several coupled parameters (i.e., sea surface temperature (SST), ocean surface heat fluxes, ocean water velocity, ocean surface winds and sea level pressure (SLP)) are analyzed to identify the dynamic changes of the WBCs. Three types of independent data sets are used, including reanalysis products, satellite-blended observations. and climate model outputs from the fifth phase of the Climate Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). Based on these broad ranges of data, we find that the WBCs (except the Gulf Stream) are intensifying and shifting toward the poles as long-term effects of global warming. An intensification and poleward shift of near-surface ocean winds, attributed to positive annular mode-like trends, are proposed to be the forcing of such dynamic changes. In contrast to the other WBCs, the Gulf Stream is expected to be weaker under global warming, which is most likely related to a weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). However, we also notice that the natural variations of WBCs might conceal the long-term effect of global warming in the available observational data sets, especially over the Northern Hemisphere. Therefore, long-term observations or proxy data are necessary to further evaluate the dynamics of the WBCs.