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Enhanced Climate Predictability involving the Subpolar gyre of the North Atlantic

Final Report Summary - ECLIPS (Enhanced Climate Predictability involving the Subpolar gyre of the North Atlantic)

Enhanced Climate Predictability Involving the Subpolar Gyre of the North Atlantic (ECLIPS)

This project aimed to provide a more detailed physical description of the Atlantic subpolar gyre (SPG), a key player in climate variability on decadal to millennial time scales. Especially on the shorter end of that range, decades, the SPG has been shown to provide great theoretical potential for much-needed climate predictions. However, this is hampered by an incomplete understanding of the underlying dynamics of the SPG. A wealth of studies investigated its elements but few attempts have been made to summarize these efforts into a single concept. This project has addressed this shortcoming in various, complementary ways.

In the last two years, we investigated the variability of the SPG in 19 comprehensive climate models, and decomposed its driving mechanisms. This is the most comprehensive study so far of the SPG in fully coupled climate models. It has addressed an issue not investigated previously in such models and yet it may be of central significance for enhanced climate predictability in the North Atlantic sector. Based on this extensive numerical data set, we have constructed a new paradigm of its variability in the form of a simplified mathematical model, based on first physical principles. This model is able to reproduce SPG variations as simulated by much more comprehensive climate models. More importantly, the model is able to predict conditions under which multiple equilibria of the SPG can occur. This extends the basic understanding and offers the opportunity to investigate abrupt changes associated with SPG switches. The interaction of the SPG with the atmosphere was investigated in the context of paleoclimatic events of the last millennium. The sum of this work led to five scientific articles, most of which are already published in peer-reviewed journals.

Concerning the training aspect of the project, the fellow has had opportunities to co-teach several key courses at the host institute, and to supervise students at different levels. His teaching activities include the organization of computer lab exercises as part of a master's level course on glaciology and three lectures on theoretical physical oceanography, along with teaching exercise classes during the entire period. He supervised one master's thesis project and one bachelor's thesis. The co-supervision of three doctoral students led to a total of four peer-reviewed publications, in addition to the ones mentioned above.

Outreach activities have been carried out as intended in the project description. A total of four lessons of 90 minutes each have been taught to students aged 13 to 18. In addition, the opportunity emerged to contribute to an informative booklet on time scales, for which the fellow prepared ten figures and accompanying text.

The final scientific product of this project is the conceptual model of the SPG, and the demonstration of its usefulness in describing its variations in the past. Its value stems from the simplified yet physically consistent understanding of the dynamics of the SPG, that hold the potential to guide future studies into the subject. Applications include studies of concurrent climate change and natural variations of North Atlantic climate, which are of significant value for neighboring societies, but also studies of paleoclimatic events.

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