Atmosphere-ocean interactions and their footprint on heat transport variability in the northern hemisphere

Liu, Yang; Attema, Jisk; Hazeleger, Wilco


Interactions between the atmosphere and ocean play a crucial role in redistributing energy, thereby maintaining the energy balance of the climate system. Here, we examine the compensation between the atmosphere and ocean's heat transport variations. Motivated by previous studies with mostly numerical climate models, this so-called Bjerknes compensation is studied using reanalysis datasets. We find that atmospheric energy transport (AMET) and oceanic energy transport (OMET) variability generally agree well among the reanalysis datasets. With multiple reanalysis products, we show that Bjerknes compensation is present at almost all latitudes from 40° to 70°N in the Northern Hemisphere from interannual to decadal time scales. The compensation rates peak at different latitudes across different time scales, but they are always located in the subtropical and subpolar regions. Unlike some experiments with numerical climate models, which attribute the compensation to the variation of transient eddy transports in response to the changes of OMET at multidecadal time scales, we find that the response of mean flow to the OMET variability leads to the Bjerknes compensation, and thus the shift of the Ferrel cell at midlatitudes at decadal time scales in winter. This cell itself is driven by the eddy momentum flux. The oceanic response to AMET variations is primarily wind driven. In summer, there is hardly any compensation and the proposed mechanism is not applicable. Given the short historical records, we cannot determine whether the ocean drives the atmospheric variations or the reverse.