The Influence of Warming Patterns on Passive Ocean Heat Uptake

Emily Newsom, Laure Zanna, Samar Khatiwala, Jonathan M. Gregory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The climate's response to forcing depends on how efficiently heat is absorbed by the ocean. Much, if not most, of this ocean heat uptake results from the passive transport of warm surface waters into the ocean's interior. Here we examine how geographic patterns of surface warming influence the efficiency of this passive heat uptake process. We show that the average pattern of surface warming in CMIP5 damps passive ocean heat uptake efficiency by nearly 25%, as compared to homogeneous surface warming. This “pattern effect” occurs because strong ventilation and weak surface warming are robustly colocated, particularly in the Southern Ocean. However, variations in warming patterns across CMIP5 do not drive significant ensemble spread in passive ocean heat uptake efficiency. This spread is likely linked to intermodel differences in ocean circulation, which our idealized results suggest may be dominated by differences in Southern Ocean and subtropical ventilation processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020GL088429
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 28 2020


  • Green's functions
  • climate change
  • climate modeling
  • ocean heat uptake efficiency
  • surface warming patterns

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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