Document Type

Article

Publication Date

10-26-2017

Publication Title

Journal of Climate

ISSN

1520-0442

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0920.1

Abstract

An accurate diagnosis of ocean heat content (OHC) is essential for interpreting climate variability and change, as evidenced for example by the broad range of hypotheses that exists for explaining the recent hiatus in global mean surface warming. Potential insights are explored here by examining relationships between OHC and sea surface height (SSH) in observations and two recently available large ensembles of climate model simulations from the mid-twentieth century to 2100. It is found that in decadal-length observations and a model control simulation with constant forcing, strong ties between OHC and SSH exist, with little temporal or spatial complexity. Agreement is particularly strong on monthly to interannual time scales. In contrast, in forced transient warming simulations, important dependencies in the relationship exist as a function of region and time scale. Near Antarctica, low-frequency SSH variability is driven mainly by changes in the circumpolar current associated with intensified surface winds, leading to correlations between OHC and SSH that are weak and sometimes negative. In subtropical regions, and near other coastal boundaries, negative correlations are also evident on long time scales and are associated with the accumulated effects of changes in the water cycle and ocean dynamics that underlie complexity in the OHC relationship to SSH. Low-frequency variability in observations is found to exhibit similar negative correlations. Combined with altimeter data, these results provide evidence that SSH increases in the Indian and western Pacific Oceans during the hiatus are suggestive of substantial OHC increases. Methods for developing the applicability of altimetry as a constraint on OHC more generally are also discussed.

Comments

© Copyright 2017 American Meteorological Society (AMS). Permission to use figures, tables, and brief excerpts from this work in scientific and educational works is hereby granted provided that the source is acknowledged. Any use of material in this work that is determined to be “fair use” under Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act or that satisfies the conditions specified in Section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Act (17 USC §108) does not require the AMS’s permission. Republication, systematic reproduction, posting in electronic form, such as on a website or in a searchable database, or other uses of this material, except as exempted by the above statement, requires written permission or a license from the AMS. All AMS journals and monograph publications are registered with the Copyright Clearance Center (http://www.copyright.com). Questions about permission to use materials for which AMS holds the copyright can also be directed to permissions@ametsoc.org. Additional details are provided in the AMS Copyright Policy statement, available on the AMS website (http://www.ametsoc.org/CopyrightInformation).

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