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Concept: Thermohaline circulation


Changes in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) are moderate in most climate model projections under increasing greenhouse gas forcing. This intermodel consensus may be an artifact of common model biases that favor a stable AMOC. Observationally based freshwater budget analyses suggest that the AMOC is in an unstable regime susceptible for large changes in response to perturbations. By correcting the model biases, we show that the AMOC collapses 300 years after the atmospheric CO2 concentration is abruptly doubled from the 1990 level. Compared to an uncorrected model, the AMOC collapse brings about large, markedly different climate responses: a prominent cooling over the northern North Atlantic and neighboring areas, sea ice increases over the Greenland-Iceland-Norwegian seas and to the south of Greenland, and a significant southward rain-belt migration over the tropical Atlantic. Our results highlight the need to develop dynamical metrics to constrain models and the importance of reducing model biases in long-term climate projection.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Earth, Climate, Atlantic Ocean, Climate change, Arctic Ocean, Antarctica, Thermohaline circulation


Despite numerous investigations, the dynamical origins of the Medieval Climate Anomaly and the Little Ice Age remain uncertain. A major unresolved issue relating to internal climate dynamics is the mode and tempo of Atlantic meridional overturning circulation variability, and the significance of decadal-to-centennial scale changes in Atlantic meridional overturning circulation strength in regulating the climate of the last millennium. Here we use the time-constrained high-resolution local radiocarbon reservoir age offset derived from an absolutely dated annually resolved shell chronology spanning the past 1,350 years, to reconstruct changes in surface ocean circulation and climate. The water mass tracer data presented here from the North Icelandic shelf, combined with previously published data from the Arctic and subtropical Atlantic, show that surface Atlantic meridional overturning circulation dynamics likely amplified the relatively warm conditions during the Medieval Climate Anomaly and the relatively cool conditions during the Little Ice Age within the North Atlantic sector.

Concepts: Earth, Climate, Atlantic Ocean, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Greenland, Thermohaline circulation, North Atlantic Deep Water


Wildfire activity is predicted to increase in many parts of the world due to changes in temperature and precipitation patterns from global climate change. Wildfire smoke contains numerous hazardous air pollutants and many studies have documented population health effects from this exposure.

Concepts: Earth, Precipitation, Climate, Weather, Climate change, Solar variation, Global warming, Thermohaline circulation


A collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) leads to global cooling through fast feedbacks that selectively amplify the response in the Northern Hemisphere (NH). How such cooling competes with global warming has long been a topic for speculation, but was never addressed using a climate model. Here it is shown that global cooling due to a collapsing AMOC obliterates global warming for a period of 15-20 years. Thereafter, the global mean temperature trend is reversed and becomes similar to a simulation without an AMOC collapse. The resulting surface warming hiatus lasts for 40-50 years. Global warming and AMOC-induced NH cooling are governed by similar feedbacks, giving rise to a global net radiative imbalance of similar sign, although the former is associated with surface warming, the latter with cooling. Their footprints in outgoing longwave and absorbed shortwave radiation are very distinct, making attribution possible.

Concepts: Earth, Climate, Climate change, Antarctica, Global warming, Equator, Thermohaline circulation, Shutdown of thermohaline circulation


The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC)-a system of ocean currents in the North Atlantic-has a major impact on climate, yet its evolution during the industrial era is poorly known owing to a lack of direct current measurements. Here we provide evidence for a weakening of the AMOC by about 3 ± 1 sverdrups (around 15 per cent) since the mid-twentieth century. This weakening is revealed by a characteristic spatial and seasonal sea-surface temperature ‘fingerprint’-consisting of a pattern of cooling in the subpolar Atlantic Ocean and warming in the Gulf Stream region-and is calibrated through an ensemble of model simulations from the CMIP5 project. We find this fingerprint both in a high-resolution climate model in response to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, and in the temperature trends observed since the late nineteenth century. The pattern can be explained by a slowdown in the AMOC and reduced northward heat transport, as well as an associated northward shift of the Gulf Stream. Comparisons with recent direct measurements from the RAPID project and several other studies provide a consistent depiction of record-low AMOC values in recent years.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Earth, Climate, Atlantic Ocean, Thermohaline circulation, North Atlantic Deep Water, Gulf Stream, North Atlantic Current


The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) is a system of ocean currents that has an essential role in Earth’s climate, redistributing heat and influencing the carbon cycle1, 2. The AMOC has been shown to be weakening in recent years 1 ; this decline may reflect decadal-scale variability in convection in the Labrador Sea, but short observational datasets preclude a longer-term perspective on the modern state and variability of Labrador Sea convection and the AMOC1, 3-5. Here we provide several lines of palaeo-oceanographic evidence that Labrador Sea deep convection and the AMOC have been anomalously weak over the past 150 years or so (since the end of the Little Ice Age, LIA, approximately AD 1850) compared with the preceding 1,500 years. Our palaeoclimate reconstructions indicate that the transition occurred either as a predominantly abrupt shift towards the end of the LIA, or as a more gradual, continued decline over the past 150 years; this ambiguity probably arises from non-AMOC influences on the various proxies or from the different sensitivities of these proxies to individual components of the AMOC. We suggest that enhanced freshwater fluxes from the Arctic and Nordic seas towards the end of the LIA-sourced from melting glaciers and thickened sea ice that developed earlier in the LIA-weakened Labrador Sea convection and the AMOC. The lack of a subsequent recovery may have resulted from hysteresis or from twentieth-century melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet 6 . Our results suggest that recent decadal variability in Labrador Sea convection and the AMOC has occurred during an atypical, weak background state. Future work should aim to constrain the roles of internal climate variability and early anthropogenic forcing in the AMOC weakening described here.

Concepts: Earth, Glacier, Climate, Climate change, Arctic Ocean, Global warming, Greenland, Thermohaline circulation


The costly interactions between humans and wildfires throughout California demonstrate the need to understand the relationships between them, especially in the face of a changing climate and expanding human communities. Although a number of statistical and process-based wildfire models exist for California, there is enormous uncertainty about the location and number of future fires, with previously published estimates of increases ranging from nine to fifty-three percent by the end of the century. Our goal is to assess the role of climate and anthropogenic influences on the state’s fire regimes from 1975 to 2050. We develop an empirical model that integrates estimates of biophysical indicators relevant to plant communities and anthropogenic influences at each forecast time step. Historically, we find that anthropogenic influences account for up to fifty percent of explanatory power in the model. We also find that the total area burned is likely to increase, with burned area expected to increase by 2.2 and 5.0 percent by 2050 under climatic bookends (PCM and GFDL climate models, respectively). Our two climate models show considerable agreement, but due to potential shifts in rainfall patterns, substantial uncertainty remains for the semiarid inland deserts and coastal areas of the south. Given the strength of human-related variables in some regions, however, it is clear that comprehensive projections of future fire activity should include both anthropogenic and biophysical influences. Previous findings of substantially increased numbers of fires and burned area for California may be tied to omitted variable bias from the exclusion of human influences. The omission of anthropogenic variables in our model would overstate the importance of climatic ones by at least 24%. As such, the failure to include anthropogenic effects in many models likely overstates the response of wildfire to climatic change.

Concepts: Climate, Weather, Climate change, Steppe, Solar variation, Global warming, Thermohaline circulation, Anthropogenic


The covariation of carbon dioxide (CO(2)) concentration and temperature in Antarctic ice-core records suggests a close link between CO(2) and climate during the Pleistocene ice ages. The role and relative importance of CO(2) in producing these climate changes remains unclear, however, in part because the ice-core deuterium record reflects local rather than global temperature. Here we construct a record of global surface temperature from 80 proxy records and show that temperature is correlated with and generally lags CO(2) during the last (that is, the most recent) deglaciation. Differences between the respective temperature changes of the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere parallel variations in the strength of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation recorded in marine sediments. These observations, together with transient global climate model simulations, support the conclusion that an antiphased hemispheric temperature response to ocean circulation changes superimposed on globally in-phase warming driven by increasing CO(2) concentrations is an explanation for much of the temperature change at the end of the most recent ice age.

Concepts: Earth, Climate, Climate change, Antarctica, Pleistocene, Global warming, Northern Hemisphere, Thermohaline circulation


The Younger Dryas (YD) cold reversal interrupts the warming climate of the deglaciation with global climatic impacts. The sudden cooling is typically linked to an abrupt slowdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) in response to meltwater discharges from ice sheets. However, inconsistencies regarding the YD-response of European summer temperatures have cast doubt whether the concept provides a sufficient explanation. Here we present results from a high-resolution global climate simulation together with a new July temperature compilation based on plant indicator species and show that European summers remain warm during the YD. Our climate simulation provides robust physical evidence that atmospheric blocking of cold westerly winds over Fennoscandia is a key mechanism counteracting the cooling impact of an AMOC-slowdown during summer. Despite the persistence of short warm summers, the YD is dominated by a shift to a continental climate with extreme winter to spring cooling and short growing seasons.

Concepts: Earth, Precipitation, Climate, Weather, Climate change, Thermohaline circulation, Younger Dryas, Shutdown of thermohaline circulation


Arctic sea ice extent is now more than two million square kilometres less than it was in the late twentieth century, with important consequences for the climate, the ocean and traditional lifestyles in the Arctic. Although observations show a more or less continuous decline for the past four or five decades, there are few long-term records with which to assess natural sea ice variability. Until now, the question of whether or not current trends are potentially anomalous has therefore remained unanswerable. Here we use a network of high-resolution terrestrial proxies from the circum-Arctic region to reconstruct past extents of summer sea ice, and show that-although extensive uncertainties remain, especially before the sixteenth century-both the duration and magnitude of the current decline in sea ice seem to be unprecedented for the past 1,450 years. Enhanced advection of warm Atlantic water to the Arctic seems to be the main factor driving the decline of sea ice extent on multidecadal timescales, and may result from nonlinear feedbacks between sea ice and the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. These results reinforce the assertion that sea ice is an active component of Arctic climate variability and that the recent decrease in summer Arctic sea ice is consistent with anthropogenically forced warming.

Concepts: Climate, Atlantic Ocean, Climate change, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Antarctica, Thermohaline circulation, Arctic shrinkage