Research Article

A sea change in our view of overturning in the subpolar North Atlantic

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Science  01 Feb 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6426, pp. 516-521
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau6592

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An array of overturning data

The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) has a strong influence on climate, so it is important to understand how global warming may affect it. Lozier et al. report initial results from the Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program (OSNAP) (see the Perspective by Rhein). OSNAP has been measuring the flux of water transported by overturning in the high latitudes in the North Atlantic. The measurements reveal the strong variability of transport in the region and show that deep water formation in the Labrador Sea may not, as previously believed, be the major determinant of AMOC variability.

Science, this issue p. 516; see also p. 456


To provide an observational basis for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections of a slowing Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (MOC) in the 21st century, the Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program (OSNAP) observing system was launched in the summer of 2014. The first 21-month record reveals a highly variable overturning circulation responsible for the majority of the heat and freshwater transport across the OSNAP line. In a departure from the prevailing view that changes in deep water formation in the Labrador Sea dominate MOC variability, these results suggest that the conversion of warm, salty, shallow Atlantic waters into colder, fresher, deep waters that move southward in the Irminger and Iceland basins is largely responsible for overturning and its variability in the subpolar basin.

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