Stockholms universitet

Johan NilssonProfessor i Meteorologi

Om mig

Johan Nilsson är professor i fysisk oceanografi. Han disputerade 1995 på Göteborgs universitet och efter en postdoc på Massachusetts Institute of Technology kom han till Meteorologiska institutionen på Stockholms universitet 1997. Hans forskning fokuserar på den storskaliga oceancirkulationen och dess inverkan på jordens klimat.



I urval från Stockholms universitets publikationsdatabas

  • The Regeneration of the Lofoten Vortex through Vertical Alignment

    2020. Marta Trodahl (et al.). Journal of Physical Oceanography 50 (9), 2689-2711


    Observations from the past decades have promoted the idea of a long-lived anticyclonic vortex residing in the Lofoten Basin. Despite repeatedly recorded intense anticyclones, the observations cannot firmly decide whether the signature is of a single vortex or a succession of ephemeral vortices. A vortex persisting for decades requires some reinvigoration mechanism. Wintertime convection and vortex merging have been proposed candidates. We examine Lofoten Basin vortex dynamics using a high-resolution regional ocean model. The model is initialized from a coarser state with a weak eddy field. The slope current intensifies and sheds anticyclonic eddies that drift into the basin. After half a year, an anticyclone arrives at the center, providing the nucleus for a vortex that remains distinct throughout the simulation. Analyses show that this vortex is regenerated by repeated absorption and vertical stacking of lighter anticyclones. This compresses and—in concert with potential vorticity conservation—intensifies the combined vortex, which becomes more vertically stratified and also expels some fluid in the process. Wintertime convection serves mainly to vertically homogenize and densify the vortex, rather than intensifying it. Further, topographic guiding of anticyclones shed from the continental slope is vital for the existence and reinvigoration of the Lofoten vortex. These results offer a new perspective on the regeneration of oceanic anticyclones. In this scenario the Lofoten vortex is maintained through repeated merging events. Fluid remains gradually exchanged, although the vortex is identifiable as a persistent extremum in potential vorticity.

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  • Mechanisms of decadal changes in sea surface height and heat content in the eastern Nordic Seas

    2020. Sara Broomé, Léon Chafik, Johan Nilsson. Ocean Science 16 (3), 715-728


    The Nordic Seas constitute the main ocean conveyor of heat between the North Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic Ocean. Although the decadal variability in the subpolar North Atlantic has been given significant attention lately, especially regarding the cooling trend since the mid-2000s, less is known about the potential connection downstream in the northern basins. Using sea surface heights from satellite altimetry over the past 25 years (1993–2017), we find significant variability on multiyear to decadal timescales in the Nordic Seas. In particular, the regional trends in sea surface height show signs of a weakening since the mid-2000s, as compared to the rapid increase in the preceding decade since the early 1990s. This change is most prominent in the Atlantic origin waters in the eastern Nordic Seas and is closely linked, as estimated from hydrography, to heat content. Furthermore, we formulate a simple heat budget for the eastern Nordic Seas to discuss the relative importance of local and remote sources of variability; advection of temperature anomalies in the Atlantic inflow is found to be the main mechanism. A conceptual model of ocean heat convergence, with only upstream temperature measurements at the inflow to the Nordic Seas as input, is able to reproduce key aspects of the decadal variability in the heat content of the Nordic Seas. Based on these results, we argue that there is a strong connection with the upstream subpolar North Atlantic. However, although the shift in trends in the mid-2000s is coincident in the Nordic Seas and the subpolar North Atlantic, the eastern Nordic Seas have not seen a reversal of trends but instead maintain elevated sea surface heights and heat content in the recent decade considered here.

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  • Variable C∕P composition of organic production and its effect on ocean carbon storage in glacial-like model simulations

    2020. Malin Ödalen (et al.). Biogeosciences 17 (8), 2219-2244


    During the four most recent glacial maxima, atmospheric CO2 has been lowered by about 90–100 ppm with respect to interglacial concentrations. It is likely that most of the atmospheric CO2 deficit was stored in the ocean. Changes in the biological pump, which are related to the efficiency of the biological carbon uptake in the surface ocean and/or of the export of organic carbon to the deep ocean, have been proposed as a key mechanism for the increased glacial oceanic CO2 storage. The biological pump is strongly constrained by the amount of available surface nutrients. In models, it is generally assumed that the ratio between elemental nutrients, such as phosphorus, and carbon (C∕P ratio) in organic material is fixed according to the classical Redfield ratio. The constant Redfield ratio appears to approximately hold when averaged over basin scales, but observations document highly variable C∕P ratios on regional scales and between species. If the C∕P ratio increases when phosphate availability is scarce, as observations suggest, this has the potential to further increase glacial oceanic CO2 storage in response to changes in surface nutrient distributions. In the present study, we perform a sensitivity study to test how a phosphate-concentration-dependent C∕P ratio influences the oceanic CO2 storage in an Earth system model of intermediate complexity (cGENIE). We carry out simulations of glacial-like changes in albedo, radiative forcing, wind-forced circulation, remineralization depth of organic matter, and mineral dust deposition. Specifically, we compare model versions with the classical constant Redfield ratio and an observationally motivated variable C∕P ratio, in which the carbon uptake increases with decreasing phosphate concentration. While a flexible C∕P ratio does not impact the model's ability to simulate benthic δ13C patterns seen in observational data, our results indicate that, in production of organic matter, flexible C∕P can further increase the oceanic storage of CO2 in glacial model simulations. Past and future changes in the C∕P ratio thus have implications for correctly projecting changes in oceanic carbon storage in glacial-to-interglacial transitions as well as in the present context of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

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  • Arctic Ocean Freshwater Dynamics

    2019. Nicola Jane Browny, Johan Nilsson, Per Pemberton. Journal of Geophysical Research - Oceans 124 (7), 5205-5219


    Simulations from a coupled ice-ocean general circulation model are used to assess the effects on Arctic Ocean freshwater storage of changes in freshwater input through river runoff and precipitation. We employ the climate response function framework to examine responses of freshwater content to abrupt changes in freshwater input. To the lowest order, the response of ocean freshwater content is linear, with an adjustment time scale of approximately 10years, indicating that anomalies in Arctic Ocean freshwater export are proportional to anomalies in freshwater content. However, the details of the transient response of the ocean depend on the source of freshwater input. An increase in river runoff results in a fairly smooth response in freshwater storage consistent with an essentially linear relation between total freshwater content and discharge of excess freshwater through the main export straits. However, the response to a change in precipitation is subject to greater complexity, which can be explained by the localized formation and subsequent export of salinity anomalies which introduce additional response time scales. The results presented here suggest that future increases in Arctic Ocean freshwater input in the form of precipitation are more likely to be associated with variability in the storage and release of excess freshwater than are increases in freshwater input from river runoff. Plain Language Summary This paper shows that the Arctic Ocean adjusts to changes in freshwater input over time scales of about one decade. How much of the added freshwater is stored in the Arctic depends, however, on how the freshwater enters the ocean. If it arrives as additional river runoff, the response in Arctic freshwater storage is relatively smooth and predictable. If it falls, instead, as increased precipitation, the response is less easy to predict because it is complicated by interactions between the ocean and sea ice. This is important because the part of the freshwater that is not stored in the Arctic Ocean is exported to the North Atlantic, where it can affect the global ocean circulation.

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  • Atlantic-Pacific Asymmetry in Deep Water Formation

    2018. David Ferreira (et al.). Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Science 46, 327-352


    While the Atlantic Ocean is ventilated by high-latitude deep water formation and exhibits a pole-to-pole overturning circulation, the Pacific Ocean does not. This asymmetric global overturning pattern has persisted for the past 2-3 million years, with evidence for different ventilation modes in the deeper past. In the current climate, the Atlantic-Pacific asymmetry occurs because the Atlantic is more saline, enabling deep convection. To what extent the salinity contrast between the two basins is dominated by atmospheric processes (larger net evaporation over the Atlantic) or oceanic processes (salinity transport into the Atlantic) remains an outstanding question. Numerical simulations have provided support for both mechanisms; observations of the present climate support a strong role for atmospheric processes as well as some modulation by oceanic processes. A major avenue for future work is the quantification of the various processes at play to identify which mechanisms are primary in different climate states.

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  • Acoustic Mapping of Thermohaline Staircases in the Arctic Ocean

    2017. Christian Stranne (et al.). Scientific Reports 7


    Although there is enough heat contained in inflowing warm Atlantic Ocean water to melt all Arctic sea ice within a few years, a cold halocline limits upward heat transport from the Atlantic water. The amount of heat that penetrates the halocline to reach the sea ice is not well known, but vertical heat transport through the halocline layer can significantly increase in the presence of double diffusive convection. Such convection can occur when salinity and temperature gradients share the same sign, often resulting in the formation of thermohaline staircases. Staircase structures in the Arctic Ocean have been previously identified and the associated double diffusive convection has been suggested to influence the Arctic Ocean in general and the fate of the Arctic sea ice cover in particular. A central challenge to understanding the role of double diffusive convection in vertical heat transport is one of observation. Here, we use broadband echo sounders to characterize Arctic thermohaline staircases at their full vertical and horizontal resolution over large spatial areas (100 s of kms). In doing so, we offer new insight into the mechanism of thermohaline staircase evolution and scale, and hence fluxes, with implications for understanding ocean mixing processes and ocean-sea ice interactions.

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  • Generation of Subsurface Anticyclones at Arctic Surface Fronts due to a Surface Stress

    2017. Liam Brannigan (et al.). Journal of Physical Oceanography


    Isolated anticyclones are frequently observed below the mixed layer in the Arctic Ocean. Some of these subsurface anticyclones are thought to originate at surface fronts. However, previous idealized simulations with no surface stress show that only cyclone–anticyclone dipoles can propagate away from baroclinically unstable surface fronts. Numerical simulations of fronts subject to a surface stress presented here show that a surface stress in the same direction as the geostrophic flow inhibits dipole propagation away from the front. On the other hand, a surface stress in the opposite direction to the geostrophic flow helps dipoles to propagate away from the front. Regardless of the surface stress at the point of dipole formation, these dipoles can be broken up on a time scale of days when a surface stress is applied in the right direction. The dipole breakup leads to the deeper anticyclonic component becoming an isolated subsurface eddy. The breakup of the dipole occurs because the cyclonic component of the dipole in the mixed layer is subject to an additional advection because of the Ekman flow. When the Ekman transport has a component oriented from the anticyclonic part of the dipole toward the cyclonic part then the cyclone is advected away from the anticyclone and the dipole is broken up. When the Ekman transport is in other directions relative to the dipole axis, it also leads to deviations in the trajectory of the dipole. A scaling is presented for the rate at which the surface cyclone is advected that holds across a range of mixed layer depths and surface stress magnitudes in these simulations. The results may be relevant to other regions of the ocean with similar near-surface stratification profiles.

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  • Ice-shelf damming in the glacial Arctic Ocean

    2017. Johan Nilsson (et al.). The Cryosphere 11 (4), 1745-1765


    Recent geological and geophysical data suggest that a 1 km thick ice shelf extended over the glacial Arctic Ocean during Marine Isotope Stage 6, about 140 000 years ago. Here, we theoretically analyse the development and equilibrium features of such an ice shelf, using scaling analyses and a one-dimensional ice-sheet-ice-shelf model. We find that the dynamically most consistent scenario is an ice shelf with a nearly uniform thickness that covers the entire Arctic Ocean. Further, the ice shelf has two regions with distinctly different dynamics: a vast interior region covering the central Arctic Ocean and an exit region towards the Fram Strait. In the interior region, which is effectively dammed by the Fram Strait constriction, there are strong back stresses and the mean ice-shelf thickness is controlled primarily by the horizontally integrated mass balance. A narrow transition zone is found near the continental grounding line, in which the ice-shelf thickness decreases offshore and approaches the mean basin thickness. If the surface accumulation and mass flow from the continental ice masses are sufficiently large, the ice-shelf thickness grows to the point where the ice shelf grounds on the Lomonosov Ridge. As this occurs, the back stress increases in the Amerasian Basin and the ice-shelf thickness becomes larger there than in the Eurasian Basin towards the Fram Strait. Using a one-dimensional ice-dynamic model, the stability of equilibrium ice-shelf configurations without and with grounding on the Lomonosov Ridge are examined. We find that the grounded ice-shelf configuration should be stable if the two Lomonosov Ridge grounding lines are located on the opposites sides of the ridge crest, implying that the downstream grounding line is located on a downward sloping bed. This result shares similarities with the classical result on marine ice-sheet stability of Weertman, but due to interactions between the Amerasian and Eurasian ice-shelf segments the mass flux at the downstream grounding line decreases rather than increases with ice thickness.

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  • Evidence for an ice shelf covering the central Arctic Ocean during the penultimate glaciation

    2016. Martin Jakobsson (et al.). Nature Communications 7


    The hypothesis of a km-thick ice shelf covering the entire Arctic Ocean during peak glacial conditions was proposed nearly half a century ago. Floating ice shelves preserve few direct traces after their disappearance, making reconstructions difficult. Seafloor imprints of ice shelves should, however, exist where ice grounded along their flow paths. Here we present new evidence of ice-shelf groundings on bathymetric highs in the central Arctic Ocean, resurrecting the concept of an ice shelf extending over the entire central Arctic Ocean during at least one previous ice age. New and previously mapped glacial landforms together reveal flow of a spatially coherent, in some regions41-km thick, central Arctic Ocean ice shelf dated to marine isotope stage 6 (similar to 140 ka). Bathymetric highs were likely critical in the ice-shelf development by acting as pinning points where stabilizing ice rises formed, thereby providing sufficient back stress to allow ice shelf thickening.

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  • Stationary Sea Surface Height Anomalies in Cyclonic Boundary Currents

    2016. Sara Broomé, Johan Nilsson. Journal of Physical Oceanography 46 (8), 2437-2456


    In high-latitude subpolar seas, such as the Nordic seas and the Labrador Sea, time-mean geostrophic currents mediate the bulk of the meridional oceanic heat transport. These currents are primarily encountered along the continental slopes as intense cyclonic boundary currents, which, because of the relatively weak stratification, should be strongly steered by the bottom topography. However, analyses of hydrographic and satellite altimetric data along depth contours in Nordic seas boundary currents reveal some remarkable, stationary, along-stream variations in the depth-integrated buoyancy and bottom pressure. A closer examination shows that these variations are linked to changes in steepness and curvature of the continental slope. To examine the underlying dynamics, a steady-state model of a cyclonic stratified boundary current over a topographic slope is developed in the limit of small Rossby numbers. Based on potential vorticity conservation, equations for the zeroth-and first-order pressure and buoyancy fields are derived. To the lowest order, the flow is completely aligned with the bottom topography. However, the first-order results show that where the lowest-order flow increases (decreases) its relative vorticity along a depth contour, the first-order pressure and depthintegrated buoyancy increase (decrease). This response is associated with cross-isobath flows, which induce stretching/compression of fluid elements that compensates for the changes in relative vorticity. The model-predicted along-isobath variations in pressure and depth-integrated buoyancy are comparable in magnitude to the ones found in the observational data from the Nordics Seas.

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  • Stationary Wave Reflection as a Mechanism for Zonalizing the Atlantic Winter Jet at the LGM

    2016. Marcus Lofverstrom (et al.). Journal of Atmospheric Sciences 73 (8), 3329-3342


    Current estimates of the height of the Laurentide Ice Sheet (LIS) at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) range from around 3000 to 4500 m. Modeling studies of the LGM, using low-end estimates of the LIS height, show a relatively weak and northeastward-tilted winter jet in the North Atlantic, similar to the modern jet, while simulations with high-end LIS elevations show a much more intense and zonally oriented jet. Here, an explanation for this response of the Atlantic circulation is sought using a sequence of LGM simulations spanning a broad range of LIS elevations. It is found that increasing LIS height favors planetary wave breaking and nonlinear reflection in the subtropical North Atlantic. For high LIS elevations, planetary wave reflection becomes sufficiently prevalent that a poleward-directed flux of wave activity appears in the climatology over the midlatitude North Atlantic. This entails a zonalization of the stationary wave phase lines and thus of the midlatitude jet.

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  • Is the Surface Salinity Difference between the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific a Signature of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation?

    2021. Johan Nilsson (et al.). Journal of Physical Oceanography 51 (3), 769-787


    The high Atlantic surface salinity has sometimes been interpreted as a signature of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation and an associated salt advection feedback. Here, the role of oceanic and atmospheric processes for creating the surface salinity difference between the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific is examined using observations and a conceptual model. In each basin, zonally averaged data are represented in diagrams relating net evaporation E˜ and surface salinity S. The data-pair curves in the E˜–S plane share common features in both basins. However, the slopes of the curves are generally smaller in the Atlantic than in the Indo-Pacific, indicating a weaker sensitivity of the Atlantic surface salinity to net evaporation variations. To interpret these observations, a conceptual advective-diffusive model of the upper-ocean salinity is constructed. Notably, the E˜–S relations can be qualitatively reproduced with only meridional diffusive salt transport. In this limit, the interbasin difference in salinity is caused by the spatial structure of net evaporation, which in the Indo-Pacific oceans contains lower meridional wavenumbers that are weakly damped by the diffusive transport. The observed Atlantic E˜–S relationship at the surface reveals no clear influence of northward advection associated with the meridional overturning circulation; however, a signature of northward advection emerges in the relationship when the salinity is vertically averaged over the upper kilometer. The results indicate that the zonal-mean near-surface salinity is shaped primarily by the spatial pattern of net evaporation and the diffusive meridional salt transport due to wind-driven gyres and mesoscale ocean eddies, rather than by salt advection within the meridional overturning circulation.

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  • A Satellite-Based Lagrangian Perspective on Atlantic Water Fractionation Between Arctic Gateways

    2021. Sara Broomé, Léon Chafik, Johan Nilsson. Journal of Geophysical Research - Oceans 126 (11)


    Warm Atlantic Water reaches the Arctic Ocean via two gateways: the Barents Sea Opening (BSO) and Fram Strait. Here, we study the near-surface flow of the Atlantic Water in the Nordic Seas and its fractionation between these Arctic gateways, using simulated Lagrangian trajectories based on satellite altimetry for 1994–2018. Lagrangian particles are released in the eastern Nordic Seas, where Atlantic Water flows poleward in two current cores: an inner branch along the Norwegian Continental Slope and an outer sea ward branch. The trajectories toward Fram Strait and the BSO are, in an averaged sense, largely steered by the bottom topography, and on inter-annual timescales we find an anticorrelation in the number of particles that reach the two gateways. Most of the particles released in the inner branch enter the Barents Sea and most of the particles seeded in the outer branch reach Fram Strait. However, there is a significant cross-over of particles from the outer to the inner branch in the Lofoten Basin, and nearly half of the total number of particles entering the BSO originate in the outer branch. This cross-over is accomplished solely by the time-fluctuating part of the velocity field, and it becomes stronger when the eddy kinetic energy in the Lofoten Basin is anomalously high. Thus, the outer branch may, via processes in the Lofoten Basin, be important for Barents Sea climate variability.

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