Technical Note: Is radiation important for the high amplitude variability of the MOC in the North Atlantic? uri icon


  • Abstract. Radiation is of fundamental importance to climate modeling and it is customary to assume that it is also important for the variability of North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) formation and the meridional overturning cell (MOC). Numerous articles follow this scenario and incorporate radiation into the calculation. Using relatively old heat-flux maps based on measurements taken in the nineteen sixties, Sandal and Nof (2007) recently suggested that, even though the radiation terms are of the same order as the other heat-flux terms, they are not important for the variability of the NADW and the MOC. They proposed that only sensible and latent heat fluxes are important for the long-term variability of the convection, i.e., for processes such as Heinrich events, which supposedly correspond to turning convection on-and-off in the Atlantic. Here, we place this suggestion on a firmer ground by presenting new and accurate up-to-date heat flux maps that also suggest that the radiation is of no major consequence to the NADW variability. Also, we attribute the relative importance of sensible and latent heat fluxes and the contrasting negligible role of radiation to the fact that the latent and sensible heat fluxes are primarily proportional to the difference between the sea surface and the air temperature whereas the radiation is primarily proportional to the sea surface temperature, i.e., radiation is approximately independent of the atmospheric temperature. Due the small heat capacity ratio of air/water (1/4), the difference between the ocean temperature and the air temperature varies dramatically between the state of active and inactive MOC, whereas the ocean temperature by itself varies very modestly between a state of active and inactive convection.