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Caldeira Lab

Atmospheric consequences of disruption of the ocean thermocline, Lester Kwiatkowski

[Environmental Research Letters]

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Technologies that utilise vertical ocean pipes have been proposed as a means of helping avoid dangerous climate change, either by increasing ocean carbon uptake, as a source of renewable energy or as a means to store thermal energy in the deep ocean. Studies to date have shown that vertical ocean pipes would have minimal impact on ocean carbon uptake but we really don’t really understand the atmospheric consequences of vertical ocean pipes ans in particular how they might affect atmospheric temperatures and hydrology. We seek to answer these questions using a Global Climate Model. By increasing vertical mixing in the upper ocean layers we assess how atmospheric temperatures and hydrology would be impacted in a highly idealised scenario. What our study shows is that although vertical ocean pipes have a large initial cooling effect on near surface temperatures, over time there is a net warming and within a century we see that temperatures are higher than they would have been had these vertical ocean mixing processes never been introduced. Our simulations show that by affecting the formation of clouds and the prevalence of sea ice, increased vertical ocean mixing in the upper ocean can have a very large effective radiative forcing without having any direct effect on the top-of-atmosphere radiative balance. In our simulations the Earth behaves as if its approaching an equilibrium temperature several degrees warmer than it would have been had these vertical ocean mixing processes never been introduced. Our study shows that rather than helping to mitigate global warming vertical ocean pipes could actually exacerbate warming in the long-term climate system.

 


Kwiatkowski, L., K. L. Ricke, and K. Caldeira, 2015: Atmospheric consequences of disruption of the ocean thermocline. Environ. Res. Lett., 10, 034016, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/10/3/034016.


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