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Research Highlights

Research Highlights /

Research Highlights


Decadal Changes in Meridional Overturning Circulation in the East Sea (Sea of Japan)

Sep 29, 2020

Meridional overturning circulation (MOC) is vital to distributing heat, freshwater, and dissolved matter in semienclosed deep marginal seas such as the East Sea (ES) (Sea of Japan). As our understanding of the ES MOC remains incomplete, we attempted to fill this research gap. We analyzed the ES MOC and its decadal change (1993–2012), employing Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM) global reanalysis. We found that the ES MOC, consisting of two counterrotating overturning cells in the late 1990s, changed into a single full-depth cell in the 2000s and reverted to two cells in the 2010s. The decadal change relates to weakening of the southward western boundary current at the intermediate layer and northward eastern boundary currents at the deep abyssal layer. We propose that surface warming and salinification favored reduced intermediate water formation and enhanced bottom water formation in the northwestern ES in the 2000s and were, therefore, key to the decadal change. Conditions unfavorable to intermediate water formation and favorable to bottom water formation in the winters of the 2000s, compared with the late 1990s, enhanced northward (westward) Ekman transport in the southern (northeastern) ES, successive advection of surface warm, saline water into water formation areas, and air–sea heat and freshwater exchanges linked to the January Arctic Oscillation. Our results indicated that the ES MOC is sensitive to both external atmospheric forcing and internal ES processes, which have implications for significant changes in the response of other marginal seas and global oceans to future climate variability.