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Jamie Morison

Senior Principal Oceanographer

Affiliate Professor, Oceanography






Dr. Morison's main focus centers on the study of Arctic Ocean change. He has been the principal investigator for the NSF-supported North Pole Environmental Observatory since 2000. He is involved with using remote sensing, principally NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), to track changes in Arctic Ocean circulation and freshwater distribution. He is also continuing a long-term interest in small-scale processes by studying interplay among Arctic change, internal waves and mixing.

Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center


B.S. Mechanical Engineering, University of California at Davis, 1969

M.S. Mechanical Engineering, University of California at Davis, 1971

Ph.D. Geophysics, University of Washington, 1980


Arctic Sea Ice Extent and Volume Dip to New Lows

By mid-September, the sea ice extent in the Arctic reached the lowest level recorded since 1979 when satellite mapping began.

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15 Oct 2012

APL-UW polar oceanographers and climatologists are probing the complex ice–ocean–atmosphere system through in situ and remote sensing observations and numerical model simulations to learn how and why.

Changing Freshwater Pathways in the Arctic Ocean

Freshening in the Canada Basin of the Arctic Ocean began in the 1990s. Polar scientist Jamie Morison and colleagues report new insights on the freshening based in part on Arctic-wide views from two satellite system.

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5 Jan 2012

The Arctic Ocean is a repository for a tremendous amount of river runoff, especially from several huge Russian rivers. During the spring of 2008, APL-UW oceanographers on a hydrographic survey in the Arctic detected major shifts in the amount and distribution of fresh water. The Canada basin had freshened, but had the entire Arctic Ocean?

Analysis of satellite records shows that salinity increased on the Russian side of the Arctic and decreased in the Beaufort Sea on the Canadian side. With an Arctic-wide view of circulation from satellite sensors, researchers were able to determine that atmospheric forcing had shifted the transpolar drift counterclockwise and driven Russian runoff east to the Canada Basin.

Oceanography from Space

In the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans observations by sensors on orbiting satellites are giving oceanographers insight to ocean processes on vast spatial and temporal scales.

1 Dec 2011


2000-present and while at APL-UW

The cyclonic mode of Arctic Ocean circulation

Morison, J., R. Kwok, S. Dickinson, R. Andersen, C. Peralta-Ferriz, D. Morison, I. Rigor, S. Dewey, and J. Guthrie, "The cyclonic mode of Arctic Ocean circulation," J. Phys. Oceanogr., EOR, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-20-0190.1, 2021.

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20 Jan 2021

Arctic Ocean surface circulation change should not be viewed as the strength of the anticyclonic Beaufort Gyre. While the Beaufort Gyre is a dominant feature of average Arctic Ocean surface circulation, empirical orthogonal function analysis of dynamic height (1950–1989) and satellite altimetry-derived dynamic ocean topography (2004–-2019) show the primary pattern of variability in its cyclonic mode is dominated by a depression of the sea surface and cyclonic surface circulation on the Russian side of the Arctic Ocean. Changes in surface circulation after AO maxima in 1989 and 2007–08 and after an AO minimum in 2010, indicate the cyclonic mode is forced by the Arctic Oscillation (AO) with a lag of about one year. Associated with a one standard deviation increase in the average AO starting in the early 1990s, Arctic Ocean surface circulation underwent a cyclonic shift evidenced by increased spatial-average vorticity. Under increased AO, the cyclonic mode complex also includes increased export of sea ice and near-surface freshwater, a changed path of Eurasian runoff, a freshened Beaufort Sea, and weakened cold halocline layer that insulates sea ice from Atlantic water heat, an impact compounded by increased Atlantic Water inflow and cyclonic circulation at depth. The cyclonic mode's connection with the AO is important because the AO is a major global scale climate index predicted to increase with global warming. Given the present bias in concentration of in situ measurements in the Beaufort Gyre and Transpolar Drift, a coordinated effort should be made to better observe the cyclonic mode.

Snowpack measurements suggest role for multi-year sea ice regions in Arctic atmospheric bromine and chlorine chemistry

Peterson, P.K., M. Hartwig, N.W. May, E. Schwartz, I. Rigor, W. Ermold, M. Steele, J.H. Morison, S.V. Nghiem, and K.A. Pratt, "Snowpack measurements suggest role for multi-year sea ice regions in Arctic atmospheric bromine and chlorine chemistry," Elem. Sci. Anth., 7 doi:10.1525/elementa.352, 2019.

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3 May 2019

As sources of reactive halogens, snowpacks in sea ice regions control the oxidative capacity of the Arctic atmosphere. However, measurements of snowpack halide concentrations remain sparse, particularly in the high Arctic, limiting our understanding of and ability to parameterize snowpack participation in tropospheric halogen chemistry. To address this gap, we measured concentrations of chloride, bromide, and sodium in snow samples collected during polar spring above remote multi-year sea ice (MYI) and first-year­ sea ­ice ­(FYI) ­north ­of ­Greenland­ and ­Alaska, ­as­ well­ as ­in ­the ­central ­Arctic, ­and ­compared these measurements to a larger dataset collected in the Alaskan coastal Arctic by Krnavek et al. (2012). Regardless of sea ice region, these surface snow samples generally featured lower salinities, compared to­ coastal ­snow. ­­Surface­ snow­ in ­FYI­ regions ­was ­typically­ enriched ­in bromide ­and­ chloride ­compared ­to seawater, indicating snowpack deposition of bromine and chlorine-containing trace gases and an ability of the snowpack to participate further in bromine and chlorine activation processes. In contrast, surface snow in MYI regions was more often depleted in bromide, indicating it served as a source of bromine-containing trace gases to the atmosphere prior to sampling. Measurements at various snow depths indicate that the deposition of sea salt aerosols and halogen-containing trace gases to the snowpack surface played a larger role in determining surface snow halide concentrations compared to upward brine migration from sea ice. Calculated enrichment factors for bromide and chloride, relative to sodium, in the MYI snow­ samples ­suggests ­that ­MYI­ regions, ­in addition ­to ­FYI­ regions, ­have ­the ­potential ­to ­play ­an ­active role in Arctic boundary layer bromine and chlorine chemistry. The ability of MYI regions to participate in springtime atmospheric halogen chemistry should be considered in regional modeling of halogen activation and interpretation of satellite-based tropospheric bromine monoxide column measurements.

Sea state bias of ICESat in the subarctic seas

Morison, J., R. Kwok, S. Dickinson, D. Morison, C. Peralta-Ferriz, and R. Andersen, "Sea state bias of ICESat in the subarctic seas," IEEE Geosci. Remote Sens. Lett., 15, 1144-1148, doi:10.1109/LGRS.2018.2834362, 2018.

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1 Aug 2018

The fine spatial resolution of laser altimeters makes them potentially valuable to oceanography studying features at mesoscale, close to land, and in the marginal ice zone. To fulfill this promise, we must understand laser sea state bias (SSB). SSB occurs in the measurement of sea surface height in the presence of waves when the altimeter observations are preferentially influenced by particular parts (e.g., wave troughs) of the wave-covered surface. Radar altimeters have received considerable attention relating radar SSB to wave properties and wind speed. Comparatively, little attention has been devoted to the SSB of laser altimeters, and the studies of laser SSB which have been done have led to indeterminate or ambiguous results even as to sign. Here, we find that to make changes in satellite dynamic ocean topography (DOT) from the Ice, Clouds, and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) period, 2004–2009, to the CryoSat-2 period, 2011–2015, consistent with hydrography plus ocean bottom pressure in the subarctic Greenland and Norwegian seas, we need to correct the ICESat DOT for SSB. On average, ICESat SSB is –18% of significant wave height in excess of 1.7 m.

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In The News

UW polar scientists advised NASA on upcoming ICESat-2 satellite

UW News, Hannah Hickey

NASA plans to launch a new satellite this month that will measure elevation changes on Earth with unprecedented detail. Once in the air, it will track shifts in the height of polar ice, mountain glaciers and even forest cover around the planet. Two University of Washington polar scientists are advising the ICESat-2 mission, provided expertise on the massive glaciers covering Antarctica and Greenland, and sea surface height in the Arctic and other oceans.

10 Sep 2018

UW scientists working with NASA to monitor Earth's ice loss

KING 5, Glenn Farley

This Saturday, NASA will launch a high-resolution satellite designed primarily to measure the status of the world's ice.

10 Sep 2018

Post-shutdown, UW Arctic research flights resume

UW News and Information, Hannah Hickey

After a couple of stressful weeks during the federal government shutdown, University of Washington researchers are back at work monitoring conditions near the North Pole. November has been busy for UW scientists studying winter storms, glacier melt and floating sea ice.

18 Nov 2013

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