Extreme air–sea interaction over the North Atlantic subpolar gyre during the winter of 2013–2014 and its sub-surface legacy

Jeremy P. Grist*, Simon A. Josey, Zoe L. Jacobs, Robert Marsh, Bablu Sinha, Erik Van Sebille

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Exceptionally low North American temperatures and record-breaking precipitation over the British Isles during winter 2013–2014 were interconnected by anomalous ocean evaporation over the North Atlantic subpolar gyre region (SPG). This evaporation (or oceanic latent heat release) was accompanied by strong sensible heat loss to the atmosphere. The enhanced heat loss over the SPG was caused by a combination of surface westerly winds from the North American continent and northerly winds from the Nordic Seas region that were colder, drier and stronger than normal. A distinctive feature of the air–sea exchange was that the enhanced heat loss spanned the entire width of the SPG, with evaporation anomalies intensifying in the east while sensible heat flux anomalies were slightly stronger upstream in the west. The immediate impact of the strong air–sea fluxes on the ocean–atmosphere system included a reduction in ocean heat content of the SPG and a shift in basin-scale pathways of ocean heat and atmospheric freshwater transport. Atmospheric reanalysis data and the EN4 ocean data set indicate that a longer-term legacy of the winter has been the enhanced formation of a particularly dense mode of Subpolar Mode Water (SPMW)—one of the precursors of North Atlantic Deep Water and thus an important component of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. Using particle trajectory analysis, the likely dispersal of newly-formed SPMW is evaluated, providing evidence for the re-emergence of anomalously cold SPMW in early winter 2014/2015.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4027-4045
Number of pages19
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number11-12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Air–sea fluxes
  • North Atlantic Ocean
  • Ocean heat content
  • Subpolar Mode Water
  • Winter 2013–2014


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