Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering
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From left, Griff Outlaw, Bob Brown, Rocky Geyer, and Barrie Walden, inspect the mock-up of the 7-ft personnel sphere for the Alvin replacement submersible. With funding from the National Science Foundation, WHOI staff began design work this year on a replacement for the 40-year-old Alvin. The new submersible, due in 2008, will dive deeper, be more maneuverable, and provide better visibility for the pilot and two observers. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, WHOI Graphics Services)
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The Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering Department (AOPE) is famous for building instruments, sensors, and vehicles at the forefront of oceanographic research and discovery. The department is also increasingly recognized for scientific advances in ocean physics and interdisciplinary ocean sciences. Our scientific and engineering activities focus on five areas: ocean acoustics, environmental fluid dynamics, submersible vehicles, observing systems and sensors, and engineering services.

Early in 2004, we held a retreat to examine our priorities and directions for the next decade. The retreat reaffirmed the value of the synergy between scientists and engineers within the department and the institution. This synergy will be particularly important in the growing enterprise of oceanographic observatories, which is likely to be a major element of our engineering and research effort in the next decade.

An emerging research area in the Department is computational fluid dynamics, in which ever-faster computers are used to model and predict the complex flows that occur in the ocean at a wide range of scales. Houshuo Jiang is modeling the flow around minute crustaceans called copepods at scales of micrometers. He recently revealed a subtle interaction between “feeding currents” produced by the organisms to gather prey and their upward propulsion, which optimizes their feeding efficiency.

New Assistant Scientist Tom Hsu is modeling the complex interactions of waves and sediment in the surf zone. His models are revealing how changing wave conditions can shape shorelines on time scales from days to years. New Assistant Scientist Ruoying He is modeling currents in the coastal ocean, at scales of 1 to 100 kilometers (1/2 to 60 miles). His recent work in the Gulf of Maine and the Gulf of Mexico is being applied to the prediction of the transport of toxic “red tide” organisms.

Ruoying’s collaborator in red-tide studies, Dennis McGillicuddy, is modeling biological-physical interactions at a variety of scales, extending to basin-scale circulation models. These large-scale modeling studies focus on the role of eddies—some as wide as 150 kilometers (90 miles)—in the vertical redistribution of nutrients, which he has found to be a key link in the productivity of the open ocean. Dennis is now leading a major field study to test his numerical predictions, using two ships to measure the influence of eddies in the North Atlantic during the summers of 2004 and 2005.

Jim Ledwell is collaborating with Dennis in the eddy study, using a tracer to quantify the vertical mixing within the eddies with unprecedented precision. Jim is also working with Research Specialist Gene Terray to measure horizontal mixing in the coastal ocean with airborne light detection and ranging (LIDAR).

— W. Rockwell Geyer (rgeyer@whoi.edu)
Department Chair

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