Indications for a North Atlantic Ocean circulation regime shift at the onset of the Little Ice Age

Author(s): Schleussner, C.-F., D.V. Divine, J.F. Donges, A. Miettinen, R.V. Donner
In: Climate Dynamics 45: 3623–3633
Year: 2015
Type: Journal / article
Theme affiliation: Complex Adaptive Systems
Full reference: Schleussner, C.-F., D.V. Divine, J.F. Donges, A. Miettinen, R.V. Donner. 2015. Indications for a North Atlantic Ocean circulation regime shift at the onset of the Little Ice Age. Climate Dynamics 45: 3623–3633.

Summary

A prominent characteristic of the reconstructed Northern Hemisphere temperature signal over the last millennium is the transition from the Medieval Climate Anomaly to the Little Ice Age (LIA). Here we report indications for a non-linear regime shift in the North Atlantic ocean circulation at the onset of the LIA.

Specifically, we apply a novel statistical test based on horizontal visibility graphs to two ocean sediment August sea-surface temperature records from the Norwegian Sea and the central subpolar basin and find robust indications of time-irreversibility in both records during the LIA onset. Despite a basin-wide cooling trend, we report an anomalous warming in the central subpolar basin during the LIA that is reproduced in ensemble simulations with the climate model of intermediate complexity CLIMBER-3αα as a result of a non-linear regime shift in the subpolar North Atlantic ocean circulation.

The identified volcanically triggered non-linear transition in the model simulations provides a plausible explanation for the signatures of time-irreversibility found in the ocean sediment records. Our findings indicate a potential multi-stability of the North Atlantic ocean circulation and its importance for regional climate change on centennial time scales.

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