A Decadal Prediction Case Study: Late Twentieth-Century North Atlantic Ocean Heat Content
Abstract An ensemble of initialized decadal prediction (DP) experiments using the Community Climate System Model, version 4 (CCSM4) shows considerable skill at forecasting changes in North Atlantic upper-ocean heat content and surface temperature up to a decade in advance. Coupled model ensembles were integrated forward from each of 10 different start dates spanning from 1961 to 2006 with ocean and sea ice initial conditions obtained from a forced historical experiment, a Coordinated Ocean-Ice Reference Experiment with Interannual forcing (CORE-IA), which exhibits good correspondence with late twentieth-century ocean observations from the North Atlantic subpolar gyre (SPG) region. North Atlantic heat content anomalies from the DP ensemble correlate highly with those from the CORE-IA simulation after correcting for a drift bias. In particular, the observed large, rapid rise in SPG heat content in the mid-1990s is successfully predicted in the ensemble initialized in January of 1991. A budget of SPG heat content from the CORE-IA experiment sheds light on the origins of the 1990s regime shift, and it demonstrates the extent to which low-frequency changes in ocean heat advection related to the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation dominate temperature tendencies in this region. Similar budgets from the DP ensembles reveal varying degrees of predictive skill in the individual heat budget terms, with large advective heat flux anomalies from the south exhibiting the highest correlation with CORE-IA. The skill of the DP in this region is thus tied to correct initialization of ocean circulation anomalies, while external forcing is found to contribute negligibly (and for incorrect reasons) to predictive skill in this region over this time period.