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Research > Research Departments > Physical Oceanography

Physical Oceanography
Overview | Awards & Recognition | Photos

Nelson Hogg, chair of the Physical Oceanography Department (left) and Engineering Assistant Ryan Schrawder with a moored profiler that Schrawder helped build. The moored profiler moves up and down a mooring line to take continuous measurements of water properties throughout the water column. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst)
The Physical Oceanography Department focuses on processes that govern the properties and state of the ocean, and the oceanís interactions with the solid Earth and atmosphere. The Department has traditionally centered on making observations of the ocean, but vigorous activities also include data interpretation, theory development, numerical modeling, laboratory simulation, and the development of new observational tools. This past year has seen advances on all these fronts.

The Arctic Ocean is becoming a new focus for the Department. In 2003 Bob Pickart returned to the Beaufort Sea to recover and redeploy an array of seven moorings containing a newly developed coastal profiler. It is a close cousin of the moored profiler developed at WHOI, which travels up and down a steel cable anchored to the seafloor, continuously measuring physical properties throughout the water column. Bobís instruments performed exceptionally well, and he now feels he understands the mechanism that generates the active eddy field within the Beaufort Sea: a periodically unstable current flowing along the seaís southern boundary. Andrey Proshutinsky set moorings in the center of the Beaufort Sea in 2003. He is testing his theory that the Beaufort Sea acts as a flywheel that alternately stores and discharges fresh water into the rest of the Arctic Ocean and, eventually, into the North Atlantic, where the influx may affect ocean circulation and climate.

Other scientists worked in the Antarctic (Bob Beardsley and Breck Owens), off northwest Australia (Kip Shearman and Ken Brink), and in the tropical Pacific (Bob Weller) and Atlantic (Al Plueddemann). Both Al and Bob also participated in CBLAST (Coupled Boundary Layers/Air-Sea Transfer), the large air-sea interaction program off Marthaís Vineyard sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Using WHOIís newly launched remotely operated vehicle Jason II, Mike McCartney and colleagues recovered six moorings that had been stranded in the tropical Atlantic for more than a year because of defective releases. Dave Fratantoni and his fleet of underwater gliders successfully participated in ONRís month-long Autonomous Ocean Sampling Network project in Monterey Bay, California.

Two new members joined the scientific staff: Jason Goodman and Jim Lerczak. Jasonís interests include global ocean-atmosphere coupling, dynamics of the frozen seas of Europa (a moon of Jupiter), and possible causes of Snowball Earth, a period 600 to 700 million years ago when Earth was globally ice-covered. Jim works in coastal and estuarine regions, investigating the physics of tides and river outflow, and couplings between biology and physics that affect larvae dispersal.

Bruce Warren retired in 2003 after a long and productive career. He came to WHOI as an undergraduate during the summer of 1955 and was appointed to the scientific staff in 1963. For his many contributions to physical oceanography, he will be awarded the 2004 Ewing Medal from the American Geophysical Union.

We were saddened by the death late in 2003 of Nick Fofonoff, Scientist Emeritus, whose career also spanned many decades at the Institution. Nick led efforts to develop and understand current and water property measurements, both for the Department and the field as a whole. Until shortly before his death, he remained at work on a new idea for how thermodynamics might determine the sharpness of the thermocline, the boundary layer between lighter and denser water masses in the ocean.

—Nelson Hogg (nhogg@whoi.edu)
Department Chair

Related Web Sites
Physical Oceanography Department
Project overviews
Edge of the Arctic Shelf
Coupled Boundary Layer Air-Sea Transfer (CBLAST)