Stommel’s Box Model of Thermohaline Circulation Revisited—The Role of Mechanical Energy Supporting Mixing and the Wind-Driven Gyration Academic Article uri icon


  • Abstract The classical two-box model of Stommel is extended in two directions: replacing the buoyancy constraint with an energy constraint and including the wind-driven gyre. Stommel postulated a buoyancy constraint for the thermohaline circulation, and his basic idea has evolved into the dominating theory of thermohaline circulation; however, recently, it is argued that the thermohaline circulation is maintained by mechanical energy from wind stress and tides. The major difference between these two types of models is the bifurcation structure: the Stommel-like model has two thermal modes (one stable and another one unstable) and one stable haline mode, whereas the energy-constraint model has one stable thermal mode and two saline modes (one stable and another one unstable). Adding the wind-driven gyre changes the threshold value of thermohaline bifurcation greatly; thus, the inclusion of the wind-driven gyre is a vital step in completely modeling the physical processes related to thermohaline circulation.

publication date

  • April 1, 2008