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Seasonal and interannual variability of the circulation in the Rhode Island Sound (RIS) is investigated by employing the Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) with two configurations in which a local-scale model with very fine resolution over the RIS is nested within a regional-scale model covering the entire US Northeastern Continental Shelf. The models are driven by tidal harmonics, climatological river discharge, and realistic ocean open boundary conditions and atmospheric forcing from January 2004 to December 2009. Results show that the tidal residual current forms a cyclonic circulation in the RIS, with amplitude of a few centimeters per second. During summer, the cyclonic circulation is significantly strengthened owing to tidal mixing and local stratification. However, due to strong northwesterly winds in winter, the cyclonic circulation disappears and instead the surface currents in the RIS move offshore. Simulations further indicate that the RIS winter currents, in terms of their magnitude and direction, have interannual variability that appears to be related to the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) winter index. In addition, the southwestward jet near the southern New England shelf break is found to intensify (weaken) during the low (high) phases of the NAO with a lag of about 1 year. The ROMS models are also used to examine the response of the regional ocean circulation to global warming, with both atmospheric forcing and open boundary conditions obtained from global climate model outputs. As the climate warms, it is found that the cyclonic gyre in the RIS is intensified, and this change is due to an intensification of the larger-scale cyclonic coastal ocean circulation over the Middle Atlantic Bight in a warming climate.

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