U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

High-Resolution Models Tell a Different Story About the Impacts of Gigantic Meltwater Floods
Published: March 03, 2011
Posted: April 07, 2011

The release of enormous volumes of glacial meltwater from large glacial lakes to the ocean in the Earth’s past have been correlated with periods of significant climatic cooling. It is believed that the meltwater would have spread across the northern North Atlantic inhibiting the sinking limb of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC)—the large-scale circulation that brings relatively mild temperatures to North America and Europe. DOE scientists have tested this hypothesis by running a state-of-the-art, high-resolution climate model simulation of glacial flood outbursts and found, contrary to popular belief, that the meltwater would have been transported into the subtropical North Atlantic, a location 3000 km further south than previously thought. Unlike earlier studies, the meltwater remained on the continental shelf as a narrow, buoyant, coastal current with little offshore spreading, and did not interrupt the sinking limb of the AMOC. Indeed, when the investigators performed the experiment with a coarser resolution version of the same model, the freshwater spread across the sub-polar North Atlantic as in previous studies. To understand the climatic impact of freshwater released in the past or future (e.g., from Greenland and Antarctica) the ocean needs to be modeled at a resolution sufficient to resolve narrow, coastal buoyant flows.

Reference: Condron, A., and P. Winsor. 2011. “A Subtropical Fate Awaited Freshwater Discharged from Glacial Lake Agassiz,” Geophysical Research Letters 38, L03705, doi:10.1029/2010GL046011.

Contact: Renu Joseph, SC-23.1, (301) 903-9237, Dorothy Koch, SC-23.1, (301) 903-0105
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

May 10, 2019
Quantifying Decision Uncertainty in Water Management via a Coupled Agent-Based Model
Considering risk perception can improve the representation of human decision-making processes in age [more...]

May 09, 2019
Projecting Global Urban Area Growth Through 2100 Based on Historical Time Series Data and Future Scenarios
Study provides country-specific urban area growth models and the first dataset on country-level urba [more...]

May 05, 2019
Calibrating Building Energy Demand Models to Refine Long-Term Energy Planning
A new, flexible calibration approach improved model accuracy in capturing year-to-year changes in bu [more...]

May 03, 2019
Calibration and Uncertainty Analysis of Demeter for Better Downscaling of Global Land Use and Land Cover Projections
Researchers improved the Demeter model’s performance by calibrating key parameters and establi [more...]

Apr 22, 2019
Representation of U.S. Warm Temperature Extremes in Global Climate Model Ensembles
Representation of warm temperature events varies considerably among global climate models, which has [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)