1Global Climate Division, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, De Bilt, the Netherlands
2National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK
3Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
*now at: Department of Physical Oceanography, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Den Burg, the Netherlands
Abstract. Since the formulation of the Stommel two-box model for the meridional overturning circulation (MOC), various theoretical and conceptual models for the MOC emerged based on scaling the MOC strength with the north south density difference. At the same time the MOC should obey geostrophic balance with an east-west density difference. Scaling with the north south density gradient seems to violate the common assumption of geostrophic balance for the large-scale circulation, which implies that the pressure gradient is orthogonal to the flow. In this brief report, we report on the results of a series of numerical simulations in an idealized ocean basin (with a zonally periodic channel at its southern end). The simulations performed with different surface forcing conditions indicate that the meridional and zonal density gradients, important for the MOC strength, are in fact related to each other through the stratification located at the northern end of the periodic channel. The results suggest that the water properties at the northern end of the periodic channel play a crucial role in setting the MOC strength, possibly explaining the sensitivity of climate models to the conditions in this area.