A simple zonally averaged coupled ocean-atmosphere model, with a relatively high resolution in the meridional direction, is used to examine physical mechanisms leading to transient amplification of thermohaline circulation (THC) anomalies. It is found that in a stable regime, in which small perturbations eventually decay, there are optimal initial conditions leading to a dramatic amplification of initial temperature and salinity anomalies in addition to the THC amplification. The maximum amplification occurs after about 40 years, and the eventual decay is on a centennial time scale. The initial temperature and salinity anomalies are considerably amplified by factors of a few hundreds and 20, respectively. The initial conditions leading to this amplification are characterized by mutually canceling initial temperature and salinity anomalies contributions to the THC anomaly, such that the initial THC anomaly vanishes. The mechanism of amplification is analyzed and found to be the result of an interaction between a few damped (oscillatory and nonoscillatory) modes with decay time scales lying in a range of 20-800 years. The amplification mechanism is also found to be distinct from the advertive feedback leading to THC instabilities for large freshwater forcing.
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