Interannual variability in the 1990s in the northern Atlantic and Nordic Seas

G.R. Bigg, S.R. Dye, M.R. Wadley

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A global fine resolution curvilinear ocean model, forced by NCEP Re-Analysis fluxes, is used to study changes in the circulation of the Nordic Seas and surrounding ocean basins during 1994-2001. The model fields exhibit regionally distinct temporal variability, mostly determined by atmospheric forcing but in regions of significant sea-ice longer timescale variability is found. Some abrupt circulation changes accompany the relaxation of the westerlies following the peak North Atlantic Oscillation Index phase of the mid 1990s. The Greenland gyre spins up over the following years, with the increased circulation partially exiting through the Denmark Strait into the northern Atlantic as well as re-circulating within the Nordic Seas. This resulted in a distinct freshening around northern Iceland and an increase in the East Icelandic Current. However, these latter increases steadied after 1998, as the increased Greenland Sea gyre circulation led to a greater proportion of water leaving through the Denmark Strait, rather than re-circulating. The model Denmark Strait Outflow therefore doubles during the latter half of the 1990s. Increased convection in the Icelandic Sea in the model in 1998-2001 acted to obliterate the anomalies that would otherwise have fed into the East Icelandic Current. A fresh, cold anomaly from the Arctic during 1998/1999 is shown to propagate through the system. Model and observations show good agreement generally, but diverge at depth more in the last few years of the simulation. The model shows that density anomalies within the East Greenland Current do not exclusively derive from the Arctic but may also arise from air - sea interaction within the Greenland Sea. Convection is a major means of limiting anomaly propagation within the model. The contrast of climatological with daily forcing shows the inherent strength of the variability in the ocean circulation on sub-decadal timescales.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-143
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Atmospheric and Ocean Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2005


  • Ocean modelling
  • Air-sea interaction
  • Ocean convection
  • Norwegian-Greenland Sea
  • East Icelandic Current

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