Background Pycnocline Depth Constrains Future Ocean Heat Uptake Efficiency

Emily Newsom, Laure Zanna, Jonathan Gregory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Ocean Heat Uptake Efficiency (OHUE) quantifies the ocean's ability to mitigate surface warming through deep heat sequestration. Despite its importance, the main controls on OHUE, and on its two-fold spread across contemporary climate models, remain unclear. We argue that OHUE is primarily controlled by mid-latitude ventilation strength in the background climate, itself related to pycnocline depth and stratification. This hypothesis is supported by a strong correlation between mid-latitude (30–60°) OHUE and the near-global average (60°S–60°N) pycnocline depth in CMIP5 and CMIP6 AOGCMs under RCP85/SSP585, and in a parameter perturbation ensemble of ocean GCM (MITgcm) experiments. This correlation explains about 70% of the CMIP5-6 spread in global OHUE. The relationship provides a pathway toward observationally constraining OHUE, and thus reducing uncertainty in projections of future global climate change and sea level rise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2023GL105673
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 28 2023


  • climate change
  • ocean heat uptake efficiency
  • southern ocean processes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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