A wind-induced thermohaline circulation hysteresis and millennial variability regimes Academic Article uri icon


  • The multiple equilibria of the thermohaline circulation (THC: used here in the sense of the meridional overturning circulation) as function of the surface freshwater flux has been studied intensively following a Stommel paper from 1961. It is shown here that multistability and hysteresis of the THC also exist when the wind stress amplitude is varied as a control parameter. Both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ocean general circulation model (MITgcm) and a simple three-box model are used to study and explain different dynamical regimes of the THC and THC variability as a function of the wind stress amplitude. Starting with active winds and a thermally dominant thermohaline circulation state, the wind stress amplitude is slowly reduced to zero over a time period of ∼40 000 yr (40 kyr) and then increased again to its initial value over another ∼40 kyr. It is found that during the decreasing wind stress phase, the THC remains thermally dominant until very low wind stress amplitude at which pronounced Dansgaard–Oeschger-like THC relaxation oscillations are initiated. However, while the wind stress amplitude is increased, these relaxation oscillations are present up to significantly larger wind stress amplitude. The results of this study thus suggest that under the same wind stress amplitude, the THC can be either in a stable thermally dominant state or in a pronounced relaxation oscillations state. The simple box model analysis suggests that the observed hysteresis is due to the combination of the Stommel hysteresis and the Winton and Sarachik “deep decoupling” oscillations. Earth and Planetary Sciences Version of Record

publication date

  • January 1, 2007