In this paper a process study aimed at analyzing the low-frequency variability of intrinsically oceanic origin of the Gulf Stream (GS) and GS extension (GSE) is presented. An eddy-permitting reduced-gravity nonlinear shallow water model is implemented in an idealized North Atlantic Ocean, with schematic boundaries including the essential geometric features of the coastline and a realistic zonal basin width at all latitudes. The forcing is provided by a time-independent climatological surface wind stress obtained from 41 years of monthly ECMWF fields. The model response yields strong intrinsic low-frequency fluctuations on the interannual to decadal time scales. The modelled timeaveraged GS/GSE flows are found to exhibit several features that can also be deduced from satellite altimeter data, such as the Florida Current seaward deflection, the GS separation at Cape Hatteras, and the overall structure of the GSE. The intrinsic low-frequency variability yields two preferred states of the GSE differing in latitudinal location that also have their counterpart in the altimeter data. A preliminary analysis of the variability in terms of dynamical systems theory is carried out by using the lateral eddy viscosity as the control parameter. A complex transition sequence from a steady state to irregular low-frequency variability emerges, in which Hopf and global bifurcations can be identified.
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