Changes in equatorial Pacific thermocline depth in response to Panamanian seaway closure: Insights from a multi-model study Public Deposited

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  • The early Pliocene warm phase was characterized by high sea surface temperatures and a deep thermocline in the eastern equatorial Pacific. A new hypothesis suggests that the progressive closure of the Panamanian seaway contributed substantially to the termination of this zonally symmetric state in the equatorial Pacific. According to this hypothesis, intensification of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) – induced by the closure of the gateway – was the principal cause of equatorial Pacific thermocline shoaling during the Pliocene. In this study, twelve Panama seaway sensitivity experiments from eight ocean/climate models of different complexity are analyzed to examine the effect of an open gateway on AMOC strength and thermocline depth. All models show an eastward Panamanian net throughflow, leading to a reduction in AMOC strength compared to the corresponding closed-Panama case. In those models that do not include a dynamic atmosphere, deepening of the equatorial Pacific thermocline appears to scale almost linearly with the throughflow-induced reduction in AMOC strength. Models with dynamic atmosphere do not follow this simple relation. There are indications that in four out of five models equatorial wind-stress anomalies amplify the tropical Pacific thermocline deepening. In summary, the models provide strong support for the hypothesized relationship between Panama closure and equatorial Pacific thermocline shoaling.
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  • Zhang, X., Schneider, B., Schulz, M., Prange, M., Steph, S., Butzin, M., . . . . (2012). Changes in equatorial pacific thermocline depth in response to panamanian seaway closure: Insights from a multi-model study. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 317-318, 76-84. doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2011.11.028
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  • 317-318
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  • This work has received funding through theDFG Research Center/Excellence Cluster “The Ocean in the Earth System”at the University of Bremen. M.B. is funded through the DFG ResearchUnit “Understanding Cenozoic Climate Cooling”.
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