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The Spatial Pattern and Mechanisms of Heat-Content Change in the North Atlantic

Science  08 Feb 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5864, pp. 800-803
DOI: 10.1126/science.1146436

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Abstract

The total heat gained by the North Atlantic Ocean over the past 50 years is equivalent to a basinwide increase in the flux of heat across the ocean surface of 0.4 ± 0.05 watts per square meter. We show, however, that this basin has not warmed uniformly: Although the tropics and subtropics have warmed, the subpolar ocean has cooled. These regional differences require local surface heat flux changes (±4 watts per square meter) much larger than the basinwide average. Model investigations show that these regional differences can be explained by large-scale, decadal variability in wind and buoyancy forcing as measured by the North Atlantic Oscillation index. Whether the overall heat gain is due to anthropogenic warming is difficult to confirm because strong natural variability in this ocean basin is potentially masking such input at the present time.

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