A new conceptual model of global ocean heat uptake

Jonathan M. Gregory, Jonah Bloch-Johnson, Matthew P. Couldrey, Eleftheria Exarchou, Stephen M. Griffies, Till Kuhlbrodt, Emily Newsom, Oleg A. Saenko, Tatsuo Suzuki, Quran Wu, Shogo Urakawa, Laure Zanna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We formulate a new conceptual model, named “MT2”, to describe global ocean heat uptake, as simulated by atmosphere–ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs) forced by increasing atmospheric CO2, as a function of global-mean surface temperature change T and the strength of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC, M). MT2 has two routes whereby heat reaches the deep ocean. On the basis of circumstantial evidence, we hypothetically identify these routes as low- and high-latitude. In low latitudes, which dominate the global-mean energy balance, heat uptake is temperature-driven and described by the two-layer model, with global-mean T as the temperature change of the upper layer. In high latitudes, a proportion p (about 14%) of the forcing is taken up along isopycnals, mostly in the Southern Ocean, nearly like a passive tracer, and unrelated to T. Because the proportion p depends linearly on the AMOC strength in the unperturbed climate, we hypothesise that high-latitude heat uptake and the AMOC are both affected by some characteristic of the unperturbed global ocean state, possibly related to stratification. MT2 can explain several relationships among AOGCM projections, some found in this work, others previously reported: ∙ Ocean heat uptake efficiency correlates strongly with the AMOC. ∙ Global ocean heat uptake is not correlated with the AMOC. ∙ Transient climate response (TCR) is anticorrelated with the AMOC. ∙ T projected for the late twenty-first century under high-forcing scenarios correlates more strongly with the effective climate sensitivity than with the TCR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1669-1713
Number of pages45
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • Atlantic meridional overturning circulation
  • Effective climate sensitivity
  • Ocean heat uptake
  • Transient climate response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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