The effect of low ancient greenhouse climate temperature gradients on the ocean's overturning circulation
- ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
Abstract. We examine whether the reduced meridional temperature gradients of past greenhouse climates might have reduced oceanic overturning, leading to a more quiescent subsurface ocean. A substantial reduction of the pole-to-Equator temperature difference is achieved in a coupled climate model via an altered radiative balance in the atmosphere. Contrary to expectations, we find that the meridional overturning circulation and deep ocean kinetic energy remain relatively unaffected. Reducing the wind strength also has remarkably little effect on the overturning. Instead, overturning strength depends on deep ocean density gradients, which remain relatively unaffected by the surface changes, despite an overall decrease in ocean density. Ocean poleward heat transport is significantly reduced only in the Northern Hemisphere, as now the circulation operates across a reduced temperature gradient, suggesting a sensitivity of Northern Hemisphere heat transport in greenhouse climates to the overturning circulation. These results indicate that climate models of the greenhouse climate during the Cretaceous and early Paleogene may yield a reasonable overturning circulation, despite failing to fully reproduce the extremely reduced temperature gradients of those time periods.