The role of anthropogenic aerosol forcing in the 1850–1985 strengthening of the AMOC in CMIP6 historical simulations

Jon Robson, Matthew B. Menary, Rowan T. Sutton, Jenny Mecking, Jonathan M. Gregory, Colin Jones, Bablu Sinha, David P. Stevens, Laura J. Wilcox

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Previous work has shown that anthropogenic aerosol (AA) forcing drives a strengthening in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) in CMIP6 historical simulations over 1850–1985, but the mechanisms have not been fully understood. Across CMIP6 models, it is shown that there is a strong correlation between surface heat loss over the subpolar North Atlantic (SPNA) and the forced strengthening of the AMOC. Despite the link to AA forcing, the AMOC response is not strongly related to the contribution of anomalous downwelling surface shortwave radiation to SPNA heat loss. Rather, the spread in AMOC response is primarily due to the spread in turbulent heat loss. We hypothesize that turbulent heat loss is larger in models with strong AA forcing because the air advected over the ocean is colder and drier, in turn because of greater AA forced cooling over the continents upwind, especially North America. The strengthening of the AMOC also feeds back on itself positively in two distinct ways: by raising the sea surface temperature and hence further increasing turbulent heat loss in the SPNA, and by increasing the sea surface density across the SPNA due to increased northward transport of saline water. A comparison of key indices suggests that the AMOC response in models with strong AA forcing is not likely to be consistent with observations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3243–3263
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number20
Early online date15 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2022


  • Aerosols
  • Coupled models
  • Meridional overturning circulation
  • North Atlantic Ocean
  • Thermocline circulation

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