This paper describes, and establishes the dynamical mechanisms responsible for, the large-scale, time-mean, midlatitude circulation in a high-resolution model of the North Atlantic basin. The model solution is compared with recently proposed transport schemes and interpretations of the dynamical balances operating in the sub-tropical gyre. In particular, the question of the degree to which Sverdrup balance holds for the subtropical gyre is addressed. At 25°N, thermohaline-driven bottom flows cause strong local departures from the Sverdrup solution for the vertically integrated meridional mass transport, but these nearly integrate to zero across the interior of the basin. In the northwestern region of the subtropical gyre, in the vicinity of the Gulf Stream, higher-order dynamics become important, and linear vorticity dynamics is unable to explain the model's vertically integrated transport. In the subpolar gyre, the model transport bears little resemblance to the Sverdrup prediction, and higher-order dynamics are important across the entire longitudinal extent of the basin.
The sensitivity of the model transport amplitudes, patterns, and dynamical balances are estimated by examining the solutions under a range of parameter choices and for four different wind stress forcing specifications. Taking into account a deficit of 7–10 Sv (Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) in the contribution of the model thermohaline circulation to the meridional transports at 25°N, the wind stress climatology of Isemer and Hasse appears to yield too strong of a circulation, while that derived from the NCAR Community Climate Model yields too weak of a circulation. The Hellerman and Rosenstein and ECMWF climatologies result in wind-driven transports close to observational estimates at 25°N. The range between cases for the annual mean southward transport in the interior above 1000 m is 14 Sv, which is 40%–70% of the mean transport itself. There is little sensitivity to the model closure parameters at this latitude. At 55°N, in the subpolar gyre, there is little sensitivity of the model solution to the choice of either closure parameters or wind climatology, despite large differences in the Sverdrup transports implied by the different wind stress datasets. Large year to year variability of the meridional transport east of the Bahamas makes it difficult to provide robust estimates of the sensitivity of the Antilles and deep western boundary current systems to forcing and parameter changes.