Campus Map

Melissa Moulton

Research Scientist/Engineer Senior

Affiliate Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering





Research Interests

Coastal and Nearshore Processes, Environmental Fluid Mechanics, Remote Sensing, Beach Hazard Prediction


Dr. Moulton is a coastal physical oceanographer who studies the dynamics and impacts of rip currents, coastal storms, and inner shelf processes using remote sensing, in situ observations, laboratory experiments, and numerical models.


B.A. Physics, Amherst College, 2009

Ph.D. Physical Oceanography, MIT/WHOI Joint Program, 2016


2000-present and while at APL-UW

Warm and cool nearshore plumes connecting the surf zone to the inner shelf

Moulton, M., C.C. Chickadel, and J. Thomson, "Warm and cool nearshore plumes connecting the surf zone to the inner shelf," Geophys. Res. Lett., EOR, doi:10.1029/2020GL091675, 2021.

More Info

4 May 2021

Cross‐shore transport of larvae, pollutants, and sediment between the surf zone and the inner shelf is important for coastal water quality and ecosystems. Rip currents are known to be a dominant pathway for exchange, but the effects of horizontal temperature and salinity gradients are not well understood. Airborne visible and infrared imaging performed on the California coast shows warm and cool plumes driven by rip currents in the surf zone and extending onto the shelf, with temperature differences of approximately 1°C. The airborne imagery and modeled temperatures and tracers indicate that warm plumes exhibit more lateral spreading and transport material in a buoyant near‐surface layer, whereas cool plumes move offshore in a subsurface layer. The average cross‐shore extent of warm plumes at the surface is approximately one surfzone width larger than for cool plumes. Future work may explore the sensitivity of nearshore plumes to density patterns, wave forcing, and bathymetry.

The Inner-Shelf Dynamics Experiment

Kumar, N., and 49 others, including J. Thomson, M. Moulton, and C. Chickadel, "The Inner-Shelf Dynamics Experiment," Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc., EOR, doi:10.1175/BAMS-D-19-0281.1, 2020.

More Info

31 Dec 2020

The inner shelf, the transition zone between the surf zone and the mid shelf, is a dynamically complex region with the evolution of circulation and stratification driven by multiple physical processes. Cross-shelf exchange through the inner shelf has important implications for coastal water quality, ecological connectivity, and lateral movement of sediment and heat. The Inner-Shelf Dynamics Experiment (ISDE) was an intensive, coordinated, multi-institution field experiment from Sep.–Oct. 2017, conducted from the mid shelf, through the inner shelf and into the surf zone near Point Sal, CA. Satellite, airborne, shore- and ship-based remote sensing, in-water moorings and ship-based sampling, and numerical ocean circulation models forced by winds, waves and tides were used to investigate the dynamics governing the circulation and transport in the inner shelf and the role of coastline variability on regional circulation dynamics. Here, the following physical processes are highlighted: internal wave dynamics from the mid shelf to the inner shelf; flow separation and eddy shedding off Point Sal; offshore ejection of surfzone waters from rip currents; and wind-driven subtidal circulation dynamics. The extensive dataset from ISDE allows for unprecedented investigations into the role of physical processes in creating spatial heterogeneity, and nonlinear interactions between various inner-shelf physical processes. Overall, the highly spatially and temporally resolved oceanographic measurements and numerical simulations of ISDE provide a central framework for studies exploring this complex and fascinating region of the ocean.

A new version of the SWIFT platform for waves, currents, and turbulence in the ocean surface layer

Thomson, J., M. Moulton, A. de Klerk, J. Talbert, M. Guerra, S. Kastner, M. Smith, M. Schwendeman, S. Zippel, and S. Nylund, "A new version of the SWIFT platform for waves, currents, and turbulence in the ocean surface layer," Proc., IEEE/OES 12th Currents, Waves, Turbulence Measurement and Applications Workshop, 10-13 March, San Diego, CA (IEEE, 2019).

More Info

10 Mar 2019

The Surface Wave Instrument Float with Tracking (SWIFT) is a freely drifting platform for measurements of waves, currents, and turbulence in the ocean surface layer. This platform
has been used globally to study wave breaking, wave-current interactions, and waves in ice. A new version (v4) of the buoy has recently been developed and demonstrated in the Office of
Naval Research “Langmuir Circulations” field campaign along the California coast (2017). The new version is built around a 5-beam Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (Nortek Signature 1000) with a multi-pulse coherent mode for high-resolution turbulence measurements. The new Doppler profiler enables estimates of the turbulent dissipation rate down to 3.5 m below waves, compared with 0.5 m in the previous version, and can measure a much larger range of turbulence levels than the previous version. The new version also uses a broadband Doppler mode to profile the mean currents down to 20 m. Mean Eulerian velocity profiles are estimated from the wave-averaged profiler velocities by applying a wave-following bias correction that scales with the Stokes drift and has twice the vertical decay scale. Finally, the new version supports real-time telemetry of raw sea surface elevations for reconstruction of individual waves by processing a coherent array of multiple SWIFTs, with applications for short-range wave-by-wave forecasting. These combined improvements to the platform are intended to advance understanding of wave processes and applications in the ocean surface layer.

More Publications

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