Climate variability and radiocarbon in the CM2Mc earth system model

Eric D. Galbraith, Eun Young Kwon, Anand Gnanadesikan, Keith B. Rodgers, Stephen M. Griffies, Daniele Bianchi, Jorge Louis Sarmiento, John P. Dunne, Jennifer Simeon, Richard D. Slater, Andrew T. Wittenberg, Isaac M. Held

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


The distribution of radiocarbon (14C) in the ocean and atmosphere has fluctuated on time scales ranging from seasons to millennia. It is thought that these fluctuations partly reflect variability in the climate system, offering a rich potential source of information to help understand mechanisms of past climate change. Here, a long simulation with a new, coupled model is used to explore the mechanisms that redistribute 14C within the earth system on interannual to centennial time scales. The model, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Climate Model version 2 (GFDL CM2) with Modular Ocean Model version 4p1(MOM4p1) at coarseresolution (CM2Mc), is a lower-resolution version of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory's CM2M model, uses no flux adjustments, and is run here with a simple prognostic ocean biogeochemistry model including 14C. The atmospheric 14C and radiative boundary conditions are held constant so that the oceanic distribution of 14C is only a function of internal climate variability. The simulation displays previously described relationships between tropical sea surface 14C and the model equivalents of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation and Indonesian Throughflow. Sea surface 14C variability also arises from fluctuations in the circulations of the subarctic Pacific and Southern Ocean, including North Pacific decadal variability and episodic ventilation events in the Weddell Sea that are reminiscent of the Weddell Polynya of 1974-76. Interannual variability in the air-sea balance of 14C is dominated by exchange within the belt of intense "Southern Westerly" winds, rather than at the convective locations where the surface 14C is most variable. Despite significant interannual variability, the simulated impact on air-sea exchange is an order of magnitude smaller than the recorded atmospheric 14C variability of the past millennium. This result partly reflects the importance of variability in the production rate of 14C in determining atmospheric 14C but may also reflect an underestimate of natural climate variability, particularly in the Southern Westerly winds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4230-4254
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Atmosphere-ocean interaction
  • Atmospheric
  • Chemistry
  • Climate change
  • Climate variability
  • Coupled models
  • Oceanic


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