Milankovitch Forcing and Meridional Moisture Flux in the Atmosphere: Insight from a Zonally Averaged Ocean–Atmosphere Model Academic Article uri icon


  • A 1-Myr-long time-dependent solution of a zonally averaged ocean–atmosphere model subject to Milankovitch forcing is examined to gain insight into long-term changes in the planetary-scale meridional moisture flux in the atmosphere. The model components are a one-dimensional (latitudinal) atmospheric energy balance model with an active hydrological cycle and an ocean circulation model representing four basins (Atlantic, Indian, Pacific, and Southern Oceans). This study finds that the inclusion of an active hydrological cycle does not significantly modify the responses of annual-mean air and ocean temperatures to Milankovitch forcing found in previous integrations with a fixed hydrological cycle. Likewise, the meridional overturning circulation of the North Atlantic Ocean is not significantly affected by hydrological changes. Rather, it mainly responds to precessionally driven variations of ocean temperature in subsurface layers (between 70- and 500-m depth) of this basin. On the other hand, annual and zonal means of evaporation rate and meridional flux of moisture in the atmosphere respond notably to obliquity-driven changes in the meridional gradient of annual-mean insolation. Thus, when obliquity is decreased (increased), the meridional moisture flux in the atmosphere is intensified (weakened). This hydrological response is consistent with deuterium excess records from polar ice cores, which are characterized by dominant obliquity cycles.

publication date

  • September 2010