Campus Map

Craig Lee

Senior Principal Oceanographer

Professor, Oceanography





Research Interests

Upper Ocean Dynamics, Coastal Ocean Processes, Internal Waves, Fronts, Dynamics and Biological Process Interactions


Dr. Lee is a physical oceanographer specializing in observations and instrument development. His primary scientific interests include: (1) upper ocean dynamics, especially mesoscale and submesocale fronts and eddies, (2) interactions between biology, biogeochemistry and ocean physics and (3) high-latitude oceanography.

With partner Dr. Jason Gobat, Lee founded and leads a team of scientists and technologists that pursues a wide range of oceanographic field programs, including intensive studies of the Kuroshio Current, coupled physical–biogeochemical studies such as the recent patch-scale investigation of the North Atlantic spring phytoplankton bloom and studies aimed at quantifying and understanding Arctic change. An important component of this work involves identifying advances that could be achieved through novel measurements and developing new instruments to meet these needs.

The team's accomplishments include autonomous gliders capable of extended operation in ice-covered waters, high-performance towed vehicles and light-weight, inexpensive mooring technologies. The team also pursues K-12 educational outreach and routinely employs undergraduate research assistants. Within the community, Lee provides leadership through service on the science steering committees for several large research programs and by serving on and chairing advisory panels for U.S. Arctic efforts. Lee supports and advises masters and doctoral students and teaches graduate level courses on observations of ocean circulation and instruments, methods and experimental design.

Department Affiliation

Ocean Physics


B.S. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of California, Berkeley, 1987

Ph.D. Physical Oceanography, University of Washington, 1995


Stratified Ocean Dynamics of the Arctic — SODA

Vertical and lateral water properties and density structure with the Arctic Ocean are intimately related to the ocean circulation, and have profound consequences for sea ice growth and retreat as well as for prpagation of acoustic energy at all scales. Our current understanding of the dynamics governing arctic upper ocean stratification and circulation derives largely from a period when extensive ice cover modulated the oceanic response to atmospheric forcing. Recently, however, there has been significant arctic warming, accompanied by changes in the extent, thickness distribution, and properties of the arctic sea ice cover. The need to understand these changes and their impact on arctic stratification and circulation, sea ice evolution, and the acoustic environment motivate this initiative.

31 Oct 2016

The Submesoscale Cascade in the South China Sea

This research program is investigating the evolution of submesoscale eddies and filaments in the Kuroshio-influenced region off the southwest coast of Taiwan.

More Info

26 Aug 2015

Science questions:
1. What role does the Kuroshio play in generating mesoscale and submesoscale variability modeled/observed off the SW coast of Taiwan?
2. How does this vary with atmospheric forcing?
3. How do these features evolve in response to wintertime (strong) atmospheric forcing?
4. What role do these dynamics play in driving water mass evolution and interior stratification in the South China Sea?
5. What role do these dynamics/features have on the transition of water masses from northern SCS water into the Kuroshio branch water/current and local flow patterns?

Salinity Processes in the Upper Ocean Regional Study — SPURS

The NASA SPURS research effort is actively addressing the essential role of the ocean in the global water cycle by measuring salinity and accumulating other data to improve our basic understanding of the ocean's water cycle and its ties to climate.

15 Apr 2015

More Projects


EXPORTS: Export Processes in the Ocean from RemoTe Sensing

The EXPORTS mission is to quantify how much of the atmospheric carbon dioxide fixed during primary production near the ocean surface is pumped to the deep twilight zone by biological processes, where it can be sequestered for months to millennia.

An integrated observation strategy leverages the precise, intense measurements made on ships, the persistent subsurface data collected by swimming and floating robots, and the global surface views provided by satellites.

18 Sep 2018

Eddies Drive Particulate Carbon Deep in the Ocean During the North Atlantic Spring Bloom

The swirling eddies that create patches of stratification to hold phytoplankton near the sunlit surface during the North Atlantic spring bloom, also inject the floating organic carbon particles deep into the ocean. The finding, reported in Science, has important implications for the ocean's role in the carbon cycle on Earth: phytoplankton use carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean from the atmosphere during the bloom and the resulting organic carbon near the sea surface is sequestered in the deep ocean.

27 Mar 2015

Seaglider: Autonomous Undersea Vehicle

APL-UW scientists continually expand Seaglider's hardware/software systems, and sensor packages. First developed for oceanographic research, it is also used by the U.S. Navy to detect and monitor marine mammals. Recently, the manufacture and marketing of Seaglider has been licensed to Kongsberg Underwater Technology, Inc., which will push the vehicle to emerging markets in offshore environmental monitoring for the oil and gas industry.

14 Aug 2013

More Videos


2000-present and while at APL-UW

Emerging technologies and approaches for in situ, autonomous observing in the Arctic

Lee, C.M., M. DeGrandpre, J. Guthrie, V. Hill, R. Kwok, M.J. Morison, C.J. Cox, H. Singh, T.P. Stanton, and J. Wilkinson, "Emerging technologies and approaches for in situ, autonomous observing in the Arctic," Oceanography, 35, doi:, 2022.

More Info

1 Dec 2022

Understanding and predicting Arctic change and its impacts on global climate requires broad, sustained observations of the atmosphere-ice-ocean system, yet technological and logistical challenges severely restrict the temporal and spatial scope of observing efforts. Satellite remote sensing provides unprecedented, pan-Arctic measurements of the surface, but complementary in situ observations are required to complete the picture. Over the past few decades, a diverse range of autonomous platforms have been developed to make broad, sustained observations of the ice-free ocean, often with near-real-time data delivery. Though these technologies are well suited to the difficult environmental conditions and remote logistics that complicate Arctic observing, they face a suite of additional challenges, such as limited access to satellite services that make geolocation and communication possible. This paper reviews new platform and sensor developments, adaptations of mature technologies, and approaches for their use, placed within the framework of Arctic Ocean observing needs.

Island Arc Turbulent Eddy Regional Exchange (ARCTERX): Science and Experiment Plan

The ARCTERX Team, "Island Arc Turbulent Eddy Regional Exchange (ARCTERX): Science and Experiment Plan," Technical Report, APL-UW TR 2201. Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, July 2022, 49 pp.

More Info

15 Jul 2022

Submesoscale flows such as fronts, eddies, filaments, and instabilities with lateral dimensions between 100 m and 10 km are ubiquitous features of the ocean. They act as an intermediary between the mesoscale and small-scale turbulence and are thought to have a critical role in closing the ocean's kinetic budget by facilitating a forward energy cascade, where energy is transferred to small scales and dissipated.

The initiative uses a suite of measurements from autonomous platforms and ships combined with regional simulations to characterize the submesoscale flows in the western Pacific Ocean between Luzon and Mariana Island arcs &$151; the ARCTERX region.

Program goals are to characterize the strength and spectral properties of the turbulent cascade of kinetic energy on the submesoscales in the ARCTERX study region and understand the processes that control energy transfers across scales and their seasonal variability.

Water mass exchange between the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea from multi-year sampling with autonomous gliders

Rainville, L., C.M. Lee, K. Arulananthan, S.U.P. Jinadasa, H.J.S. Fernando, W.N.C. Priyadarshani, and H. Wijesekera, "Water mass exchange between the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea from multi-year sampling with autonomous gliders," J. Phys. Oceanogr., EOR, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-21-0279.1, 2022.

More Info

20 Jun 2022

We present high-resolution sustained, persistent observations of the ocean around Sri Lanka from autonomous gliders collected over several years, a region with complex, variable circulation patterns connecting the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea to each other and the rest of the Indian Ocean. The Seaglider surveys resolve seasonal to interannual variability in vertical and horizontal structure, allowing quantification of volume, heat and freshwater fluxes, as well as the transformations and transports of key water mass classes across sections normal to the east (2014–2015) and south (2016–-2019) coasts of Sri Lanka. The resulting transports point to the importance of both surface and subsurface flows and show that the direct pathway along the Sri Lankan coast plays a significant role in the exchanges of waters between Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. Significant section-to-section variability highlights the need for sustained, long-term observations to quantify the circulation pathways and dynamics associated with exchange between the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea and provides context for interpreting observations collected as 'snapshots' of more limited duration.

More Publications

In The News

During a pandemic, is oceangoing research safe?

Eos, Jenessa Duncombe

Postponing cruises. Cancelling cruises. UNOLS has extended its halt on vessel operations until July. UNOLS Chair Craig Lee explains why onboard mitigation of COVID-19 is "difficult to impossible."

1 Apr 2020

Coronavirus is wreaking havoc on scientific field work

The Washington Post, Maddie Stone

As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to upend life around the world, scientific research is beginning to suffer. Over the past several weeks, major Earth science field campaigns, some years in the making, have been called off or postponed indefinitely. Craig Lee, APL-UW Senior Principal Oceanographer and UNOLS Council Chair, comments on impacts to at-sea research.

27 Mar 2020

These ocean robots spent a year collecting data under Antarctic ice

Geek.com, Genevieve Scarano

Studying Antarctic areas can be tough for scientists, but ocean robots are here to help: A group of autonomous subs have successfully collected data beneath the Dotson Ice Shelf in West Antarctica.

24 Jan 2019

More News Items


Ogive Fairing, Cover Hatch, and Wing Drawings

Record of Invention Number: 4149-Reg-0009

Jason Gobat, Adam Huxtable, Craig Lee, Charles Eriksen, Jim Osse


25 Mar 2010

Acoustics Air-Sea Interaction & Remote Sensing Center for Environmental & Information Systems Center for Industrial & Medical Ultrasound Electronic & Photonic Systems Ocean Engineering Ocean Physics Polar Science Center