H. L. Johnson and D. P. Marshall, J. Phys. Oceanogr., 32, 1121-1132.
The response of the upper, warm limb of the thermohaline circulation in the North Atlantic to a rapid change in deep water formation at high latitudes is investigated using a reduced-gravity ocean model. Changes in deep water formation rate initiate Kelvin waves which propagate along the western boundary to the equator on a timescale of months. Adjustment in the North Atlantic is therefore rapid. The southern hemisphere response is much slower, limited by a mechanism we term the ``equatorial buffer''. Since to leading order the flow is in geostrophic balance, the pressure anomaly decreases in magnitude as the Kelvin wave moves equatorwards, where the Coriolis parameter is lower. Together with the lack of sustained pressure gradients along the eastern boundary, this limits the size of the pressure field response in the southern hemisphere. Interior adjustment is by the westward propagation of Rossby waves, but only a small fraction of the change in thermohaline circulation strength is communicated across the equator to the South Atlantic at any one time, introducing a much longer timescale into the system.
A new quantitative theory is developed to explain this long-timescale adjustment. The theory relates the westward propagation of thermocline depth anomalies to the net meridional transport, and leads to a ``delay equation'' in a single parameter - the thermocline depth on the eastern boundary - from which the time-varying circulation in the entire basin can be calculated. The theory agrees favourably with the numerical results. Implications for predictability, abrupt climate change and the monitoring of thermohaline variability are discussed.
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