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Climate models currently struggle with the more traditional, coarse ( O(100 km) ) representation of the ocean. In these coarse ocean simulations, western boundary currents are notoriously difficult to model accurately. The modeled Gulf Stream is typically seen exhibiting a mean pathway that is north of observations, and is linked to a warm sea-surface temperature bias in the Mid-Atlantic Bight. Although increased resolution ( O(10 km) ) improves the modeled Gulf Stream position, there is no clean recipe for obtaining the proper pathway. The 70 year history of literature on the Gulf Stream separation suggests that we have not reached a resolution on the dynamics that control the current's pathway just south of the Mid-Atlantic Bight. Without a concrete knowledge on the separation dynamics, we cannot provide a clean recipe for accurately modeling the Gulf Stream at increased resolutions. Further, any reliable parameterization that yields a realistic Gulf Stream path must express the proper physics of separation. The goal of this dissertation is to determine what controls the Gulf Stream separation. To do so, we examine the results of a model intercomparison study and a set of numerical regional terraforming experiments. It is argued that the separation is governed by local dynamics that are most sensitive to the steepening of the continental shelf, consistent with the topographic wave arrest hypothesis of Stern (1998). A linear extension of Stern's theory is provided, which illustrates that wave arrest is possible for a continuously stratified fluid.