The Wild Wild Western Boundary Current: An Observation-Based Journey to Explore the Gulf Stream Off Cape Hatteras, NC

Mike Muglia
Assistant Director of Science and Research

NC Ocean Energy Program

Friday, Dec. 4, 2020, 3:10pm

Cape Hatteras is the Mason Dixon Line on the U.S. east coast for both Gulf Stream (GS) meander kinematics and shelf water convergence. At Cape Hatteras, the GS leaves the continental margin and transitions from a topographically steered western boundary current on the Blake Plateau into water depths that increase from 2000 m to 4500 m. Along this transition, Deep Western Boundary Current passes beneath the GS. On the shelf, southward moving fresher cooler water of the Mid Atlantic Bight meets the warmer saltier water of the South Atlantic Bight. This confluence of water masses of different densities results in the Hatteras Front and cross-isobath transport that provides a pathway for shelf-deep ocean exchange. The GS plays a prominent role in influencing these and other shelf kinematics and exchange processes. 

In addition to the unique physical processes that manifest off Cape Hatteras, this location is also where the GS flows close to land, varies least in position after leaving the Florida Straits, and has surface currents that approach 3 m/s in relatively shallow water making it a location of interest for extracting Marine Hydrokinetic Energy (MHK).

Dr. Muglia will present observation-based discoveries and insights about the complex current confluences off Cape Hatteras NC, GS MHK, and share his fascination with working on and across the GS.


Mike Muglia is the Assistant Director of Science and Research for the NC Ocean Energy Program and an Assistant Research Professor at the East Carolina University Coastal Studies Institute on the Outer Banks of NC. Mike holds BS degrees in marine science, biology, and physics, an MS degree in physics, and a Ph.D. in Marine Science from UNC-Chapel Hill. A self-described surf junky, Mike most enjoys working on the ocean.