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The influence of orography on modern ocean circulation

Maffre, Pierre, Ladant, Jean-Baptiste, Donnadieu, Yannick, Sepulchre, Pierre, Goddéris, Yves
Climate dynamics 2018 v.50 no.3-4 pp. 1277-1289
General Circulation Models, atmospheric precipitation, climate, evaporation, freshwater, latitude, monsoon season, oceans, runoff, salinity, salt content, summer, watersheds, Andes region, Atlantic Ocean, North America, Pacific Ocean, Republic of the Congo, Rocky Mountain region
The effects of orography on climate are investigated with a coupled ocean–atmosphere general circulation model (IPSL-CM5). Results are compared with previous investigations in order to dig out robust consequences of the lack of orography on the global scale. Emphasis is made on the thermohaline circulation whose sensitivity to orography has only been subject to a very limited number of studies using coupled models. The removal of the entire orography switches the Meridional Overturning Circulation from the Atlantic to the Pacific, following freshwater transfers from the latter to the former that reverse the salinity gradient between these oceans. This is in part due to the increased freshwater export from the Pacific to the Atlantic through North America in the absence of the Rocky Mountains and the consecutive decreased evaporation in the North Atlantic once the Atlantic MOC weakens, which cools the northern high-latitudes. In addition and unlike previous model studies, we find that tropical freshwater transfers are a major driver of this switch. More precisely, the collapse of the Asian summer monsoon, associated with westward freshwater transfer across Africa, is critical to the freshening of the Atlantic and the increased salt content in the Pacific. Specifically, precipitations are increasing over the Congo catchment area and induce a strong increase in runoff discharging into the tropical Atlantic. In addition, the removal of the Andes shifts the area of strong precipitation toward the Amazonian catchment area and results in a larger runoff discharging into the Tropical Atlantic.