• Lake Superior;
  • circulation;
  • model;
  • trends;
  • Great Lakes;
  • currents

[1] Previous observations and modeling studies of Lake Superior have only partly elucidated its large-scale circulation, in terms of both the climatological state and interannual variability. We use an eddy resolving, three-dimensional hydrodynamic model to bridge this gap. We simulate Lake Superior circulation and thermal structure from 1979 to 2006 and consider the mechanisms responsible for the flow. Model results are compared to available direct observations of temperature and currents. Circulation in the lake is primarily cyclonic during all seasons, and a two-gyre structure is sometimes present. Surface circulation patterns in winter mimic wind directions but become organized in summer by the presence of thermal gradients. On the annual mean, nearshore currents are controlled by thermal gradients, while offshore flow is primarily determined by the wind. From a uniform bathymetry simulation, we determine that topographic variations cause small-scale structures in the open lake flow and are critical to the development of nearshore-offshore temperature gradients. The lake exhibits significant variability in current speed and direction on synoptic time scales, but coherent patterns of interannual variability are not found. Long-term trends due to changing meteorological forcing are found. Model results suggest the increase in lake surface temperature (0.37°C/decade) is significantly correlated to increases in wind speed above the lake (0.18 m/s/decade), increased current speeds (0.37 cm/s/decade), and declining ice coverage (−886 km2/yr).