How can tropical Pacific Ocean heat transport vary?

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Journal of Physical Oceanography
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Pacific Ocean oceanic heat transport is studied in an ocean model coupled to an atmospheric mixed-layer model. The shallow meridional overturning circulation cells in the Tropics and subtropics transport heat away from the equator. The heat transport by the horizontal gyre circulation in the Tropics is smaller and directed toward the equator. The response of the Pacific oceanic heat transport to El Nino-like winds, extratropical winds, and variations in the Indonesian Throughflow is studied. Large, opposing changes are found in the heat transport by the meridional overturning and the horizontal gyres in response to El Nino-like winds. Consequently, the change in total heat transport is relatively small. The overturning transport decreases and the gyres spin down when the winds decrease in the Tropics. This compensation breaks down when the Indonesian Throughflow is allowed to vary in the model. A reduced Indonesian Throughflow, as observed during El Nino-like conditions, causes a large reduction of poleward heat transport in the South Pacific and affects the ocean heat transport in the southern tropical Pacific. Extratropical atmospheric anomalies can affect tropical ocean heat transport as the tropical thermocline is ventilated from the extratropics. The authors find that changes in the heat loss in the midlatitudes affect tropical ocean heat transport by driving an enhanced buoyancy-driven overturning that reaches into the Tropics. The results are related to observed changes in the overturning circulation in the Pacific in the 1990s, sea surface temperarture changes, and changes in atmospheric circulation. The results imply that the ratio of heat transport in the ocean to that in the atmosphere can change.


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