On the variability of wind power input to the oceans with a focus on the subpolar North Atlantic

Xiaoming Zhai, Carl Wunsch

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13 Citations (Scopus)


Variations in power input to the ocean using a recent global “reanalysis” extending back to 1871 show a strong trend in the net power input since then, a trend dominated by the Southern Ocean region. This trend is interpreted as a spurious result of the changing observational system. Focusing therefore on the North Atlantic Ocean, where the database is somewhat more secure, it is found that the input power in the subpolar North Atlantic varies significantly in time, showing a strong relationship to the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). During positive NAO index years, power input is greater owing to enhanced synoptic activity. Furthermore, cumulative power input to the subpolar North Atlantic is found to correlate significantly with both the eddy kinetic energy there and the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation (AMO), although the physical mechanism at work remains unclear. The assumption that the changing ocean can be neglected relative to the changing atmosphere in calculating the power input is found to be a usefully accurate approximation over the two decades for which changing ocean state estimates are available. Strong dependence on synoptic weather systems of monthly-mean stress distributions implies that past and future climate simulations must account properly for changes in weather systems, not just the large-scale variations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3892-3903
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2013


  • Ocean circulation
  • Wind stress
  • North Atlantic Oscillation
  • Mesoscale processes
  • Oceanic variability

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