John Marshall

Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Oceanography, MIT

The vertical structure of ocean heat transport

The vertical structure of ocean heat transport.

(Boccaletti, G and Ferrari, R and Adcroft, A and Ferreira, D and Marshall, J), GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, vol. 32, no. 10, 2005.


One of the most important contributions the ocean makes to Earth’s climate is through its poleward heat transport: about 1.5 PW or more than 30% of that accomplished by the ocean-atmosphere system (Trenberth and Caron, 2001). Recently, concern has arisen over whether global warming could affect this heat transport (Watson et al., 2001), for example, reducing high latitude convection and triggering a collapse of the deep overturning circulation (Rahmstorf, 1995). While the consequences of abrupt changes in oceanic circulation should be of concern, we argue that the attention devoted to deep circulations is disproportionate to their role in heat transport. For this purpose, we introduce a heat function which identifies the contribution to the heat transport by different components of the oceanic circulation. A new view of the ocean emerges in which a shallow surface intensified circulation dominates the poleward heat transport.

doi = 10.1029/2005GL022474