A simple model of the response of the Atlantic to the North Atlantic Oscillation

Xiaoming Zhai, Helen L. Johnson, David P. Marshall

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22 Citations (Scopus)


The response of an idealized Atlantic Ocean to wind and thermohaline forcing associated with the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is investigated both analytically and numerically in the framework of a reduced-gravity model. The NAO-related wind forcing is found to drive a time-dependent “leaky” gyre circulation that integrates basinwide stochastic wind Ekman pumping and initiates low-frequency variability along the western boundary. This is subsequently communicated, together with the stochastic variability induced by thermohaline forcing at high latitudes, to the remainder of the Atlantic via boundary and Rossby waves. At low frequencies, the basinwide ocean heat content changes owing to NAO wind forcing and thermohaline forcing are found to oppose each other. The model further suggests that the recently reported opposing changes of the meridional overturning circulation in the Atlantic subtropical and subpolar gyres between 1950–70 and 1980–2000 may be a generic feature caused by interplay between the NAO wind and thermohaline forcing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4052-4069
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2014


  • Meridional overturning circulation
  • Ocean dynamics
  • Rossby waves
  • Teleconnections
  • North Atlantic Oscillation
  • Thermocline circulation

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