May 25, 2018
Web Feature

Sea Change: The Ocean's Powerful Effect on Earth Systems

A new modeling approach shows that the ocean circulation determines the varying rate of global temperature response to carbon dioxide

Ocean at dusk

Researchers isolated the role of ocean dynamics in shaping the pace of atmospheric warming.

The Science

What would happen if you gathered all the carbon dioxide released over centuries in a time capsule and released it at once into the climate system? Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory led a study that probed the pace of atmospheric warming.

Using a new modeling approach, they identified ocean dynamical feedback as the main reason for the time dependence of climate sensitivity. In their model, they disabled the effects of changing ocean circulation. In this way, they could isolate the role of ocean dynamics in shaping the pattern of heat absorption and the pace of warming.

The Impact

The partially coupled Earth system model is one-of-a-kind because the active role of the ocean dynamics can be separated from the total climate variations. Through this novel experimental design, scientists identified slow adjustments in ocean motion as the key for setting the transient behavior of climate sensitivity and organizing the related feedbacks.


User Facility: The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), a DOE Office of Science user facility, provided supercomputing resources.

Reference: O.A. Garuba, J. Lu, F. Liu, H.A. Singh, "The Active Role of the Ocean in the Temporal Evolution of Climate Sensitivity." Geophysical Research Letters 45, 306-315 (2018). [DOI: 10.1002/2017GL075633]

Key Capabilities

Published: May 25, 2018

Research Team

Fukai Liu, Ocean University of China and National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology
Oluwayemi A. Garuba, Jian Lu, and Hansi Singh, PNNL