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Luc Rainville

Head, OPD Department & Principal Oceanographer

Affiliate Assistant Professor, Oceanography






Dr. Rainville's research interests reside primarily in observational physical oceanography and span the wide range of spatial and temporal scales in the ocean. From large-scale circulation to internal waves to turbulence, the projects he is involved in focus on the interactions between phenomena of different scales. He is motivated to find simple and innovative ways to study the ocean, primarily through sea-going oceanography but also using with remote sensing and modeling.

In particular, Luc Rainville is interested in how phenomena typically considered 'small-scale' impact the oceanic system as a whole.

* Propagation of internal waves through eddies and fronts.
* Water mass formation and transformation by episodic forcing events.
* Mixing and internal waves in the Arctic and in the Southern Ocean.

Dr. Rainville joined the Ocean Physics Department at APL-UW at the end of 2007.

Department Affiliation

Ocean Physics


B.Sc. Physics, McGill University, 1998

Ph.D. Oceanography, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 2004


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.

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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

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2000-present and while at APL-UW

Damping of inertial motions through the radiation of near-inertial waves in a dipole vortex in the Iceland Basin

Thomas, L.N., E.D. Skyllingstad, L. Rainville, V. Hormann, L. Centurioni, J.N. Moum, O. Asselin, and C.M. Lee, "Damping of inertial motions through the radiation of near-inertial waves in a dipole vortex in the Iceland Basin," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 53, 1821-1833, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-22-0202.1, 2023.

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22 May 2023

Along with boundary layer turbulence, downward radiation of near-inertial waves (NIWs) damps inertial oscillations (IOs) in the surface ocean, however the latter can also energize abyssal mixing. Here we present observations made from a dipole vortex in the Iceland Basin where, after the period of direct wind forcing, IOs lost over half their kinetic energy (KE) in two inertial periods to radiation of NIWs with minimal turbulent dissipation of KE. The dipole's vorticity gradient led to a rapid reduction in the NIW's lateral wavelength via ς-refraction that was accompanied by isopycnal undulations below the surface mixed layer. Pressure anomalies associated with the undulations were correlated with the NIW's velocity yielding an energy flux of 310 mW m-2 pointed antiparallel to the vorticity gradient and a downward flux of 1 mW m-2 capable of driving the observed drop in KE. The minimal role of turbulence in the energetics after the IOs had been generated by the winds was confirmed using a large eddy simulation driven by the observed winds.

Wind-driven motions of the ocean surface mixed layer in the Western Arctic

Brenner, S., J. Thomson, L. Rainville, L. Crews, and C. Lee, "Wind-driven motions of the ocean surface mixed layer in the Western Arctic," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 53, 1787-1804, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-22-0112.1, 2023.

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12 Apr 2023

Observations of sea ice and the upper ocean from three moorings in the Beaufort Sea quantify atmosphere-ice-ocean momentum transfer, with a particular focus on the inertial-frequency response. Seasonal variations in the strength of mixed layer (ML) inertial oscillations suggest that sea ice damps momentum transfer from the wind to the ocean, such that the oscillation strength is minimal under sea ice cover. In contrast, the net Ekman transport is unimpacted by the presence of sea ice. The mooring measurements are interpreted with a simplified one-dimensional ice-ocean coupled "slab" model. The model results provide insight into the drivers of the inertial seasonality: namely, that a combination of both sea ice internal stress and ocean ML depth contribute to the seasonal variability of inertial surface currents and inertial sea ice drift, while under-ice roughness does not. Furthermore, the importance of internal stress in damping inertial oscillations is different at each moorings, with a minimal influence at the southernmost mooring (within the seasonal ice zone) and more influence at the northernmost mooring. As the Arctic shifts to a more seasonal sea ice regime, changes in sea ice cover and sea ice internal strength may impact inertial-band ice-ocean coupling and allow for an increase in wind forcing to the ocean.

Acoustic sensing of ocean mixed layer depth and temperature from uplooking ADCPs

Brenner, S., J. Thomson, L. Rainville, D. Torres, M. Doble, J. Wilkinson, and C. Lee, "Acoustic sensing of ocean mixed layer depth and temperature from uplooking ADCPs," J. Atmos. Ocean. Technol., 40, doi:10.1175/JTECH-D-22-0055.1, 2022.

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1 Jan 2023

Properties of the surface mixed layer (ML) are critical for understanding and predicting atmosphere-sea ice-ocean interactions in the changing Arctic Ocean. Mooring measurements are typically unable to resolve the ML in the Arctic due to the need for instruments to remain below the surface to avoid contact with sea ice and icebergs. Here, we use measurements from a series of three moorings installed for one year in the Beaufort Sea to demonstrate that upward looking Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCPs) installed on subsurface floats can be used to estimate ML properties. A method is developed for combining measured peaks in acoustic backscatter and inertial shear from the ADCPs to estimate the ML depth. Additionally, we use an inverse sound speed model to infer the summer ML temperature based on offsets in ADCP altimeter distance during open water periods. The ADCP estimates of ML depth and ML temperature compare favourably with measurements made from mooring temperature sensors, satellite SST, and from an autonomous Seaglider. These methods could be applied to other extant mooring records to recover additional information about ML property changes and variability.

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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