Numerous observational and modeling studies of ocean circulation surrounding Taiwan have reported occurrences of cold water and doming of isotherms (called the cold dome) that result in the formation of coastal upwelling on the northeastern Taiwan shelf. We use a high-resolution (1/24°) ocean model based on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology general circulation model to study the evolution of this distinct shelf-slope circulation phenomenon. We performed a number of model simulations spanning a five-year period (2004–2008) using realistic atmospheric forcing and initial and open boundary conditions. The model solutions were compared with satellite measurements of sea surface height (SSH), sea surface temperature (SST), and historical temperature and salinity observations. The model showed a realistically shaped cold dome with a diameter of ~ 100 km and temperature of ~ 3°C below the ambient shelf waters at 50 m depth. The occurrences of simulated cold dome events appeared to be connected with the seasonal variability of the Kuroshio Current. The model simulations showed more upwelling events during spring and summer when the core of the Kuroshio tends to migrate away from the east coast of Taiwan, compared to fall and winter when the core of the Kuroshio is generally found closer to the east coast of Taiwan. The model also reproduced weak cyclonic circulation associated with the upwelling off northeastern Taiwan. We analyzed the spatio-temporal variability of the cold dome using the model solution as a proxy and designed a "cold dome index" based on the temperature at 50 m depth averaged over a 0.5° × 0.5° box centered at 25.5°N, 122°E. The cold dome index correlates with temperature at 50 m depth in a larger region, suggesting the spatial extent of the cold dome phenomenon. The index had correlation maxima of 0.78 and 0.40 for simulated SSH and SST, respectively, in and around the cold dome box region, and we hypothesize that it is a useful indicator of upwelling off northeastern Taiwan. In addition, both correlation and composite analysis between the temperature at 50 m depth and the East Taiwan Channel transport showed no cold dome events during low-transport events (often in winter) and more frequent cold dome events during high-transport events (often in summer). The simulated cold dome events had time scales of about two weeks, and their centers aligned roughly along a northeastward line starting from the northeastern tip of Taiwan.