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Luc Rainville

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

Attenuation of ocean surface waves in pancake and frazil sea ice along the coast of the Chukchi Sea

Hošeková, L., M.P. Malila, W.E. Rogers, L.A. Roach, E. Eidam, L. Rainville, N. Kumar, and J. Thomson, "Attenuation of ocean surface waves in pancake and frazil sea ice along the coast of the Chukchi Sea," J. Geophys. Res., 125, doi:10.1029/2020JC016746, 2020.

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1 Dec 2020

Alaskan Arctic coastlines are protected seasonally from ocean waves by the presence of coastal and shorefast sea ice. This study presents field observations collected during the autumn 2019 freeze up near Icy Cape, a coastal headland in the Chukchi Sea of the Western Arctic. The evolution of the coupled air‐ice‐ocean‐wave system during a four‐day wave event was monitored using drifting wave buoys, a cross‐shore mooring array, and ship‐based measurements. The incident wave field with peak period of 2.5 s was attenuated by coastal pancake and frazil sea ice, reducing significant wave height by 40% over less than 5 km of cross‐shelf distance spanning water depths from 13 to 30 m. Spectral attenuation coefficients are evaluated with respect to wave and ice conditions and the proximity to the ice edge. Attenuation rates are found to be three times higher within 500 m of the ice edge, relative to values farther in the ice cover. Attenuation coefficients are in the range of <2.3,2.7> m-1, and follow a power‐law dependence on frequency.

Refraction and straining of near-inertial waves by barotropic eddies

Asselin, O., L.N. Thomas, W.R. Young, and L. Rainville, "Refraction and straining of near-inertial waves by barotropic eddies," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 50, 3439-3454, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-20-0109.1, 2020.

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1 Dec 2020

Fast-moving synoptic-scale atmospheric disturbances produce large-scale near-inertial waves in the ocean mixed layer. In this paper, we analyze the distortion of such waves by smaller-scale barotropic eddies, with a focus on the evolution of the horizontal wavevector k under the effects of straining and refraction. The model is initialized with a horizontally uniform (k = 0) surface-confined near-inertial wave, which then evolves according to the phase-averaged model of Young and Ben Jelloul. A steady barotropic vortex dipole is first considered. Shear bands appear in the jet region as wave energy propagates downward and toward the anticyclone. When measured at a fixed location, both horizontal and vertical wavenumbers grow linearly with the time t elapsed since generation such that their ratio, the slope of wave bands, is time independent. Analogy with passive scalar dynamics suggests that straining should result in the exponential growth of |k|. Here instead, straining is ineffective, not only at the jet center, but also in its confluent and diffluent regions. Low modes rapidly escape below the anticyclonic core such that weakly dispersive high modes dominate in the surface layer. In the weakly dispersive limit, k = –t∇ζ(x, y, t)/2 provided that (i) the eddy vertical vorticity ζ evolves according to the barotropic quasigeostrophic equation and (ii) k = 0 initially. In steady flows, straining is ineffective because k is always perpendicular to the flow. In unsteady flows, straining modifies the vorticity gradient and hence k, and may account for significant wave–eddy energy transfers.

Improving situational awareness in the Arctic Ocean

Rainville, L., and 22 others including C.M. Lee and G.B. Shilling, "Improving situational awareness in the Arctic Ocean," Front. Mar. Sci., 7, doi:10.3389/fmars.2020.581139, 2020.

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25 Nov 2020

To successfully operate in a harsh environment like the Arctic Ocean, one must be able to understand and predict how that environment will evolve over different spatial and temporal scales. This is particularly challenging given the on-going and significant environmental changes that are occurring in the region. Access to the most recent environmental information provides timely knowledge that enables ship-based operations to proceed efficiently, effectively and safely in this difficult arena. Knowledge of the evolving environmental conditions during a field campaign is critical for effective planning, optimal execution of sampling strategies, and to provide a broader context to data collected at specific times and places. We describe the collaborations and processes that enabled an operational system to be developed to provide a remote field-team, located on USCGC Healy in the Beaufort Sea, with near real-time situational awareness information regarding the weather, sea ice conditions, and oceanographic processes. The developed system included the punctual throughput of near real-time products such as satellite imagery, meteorological forecasts, ice charts, model outputs, and up to date locations of key sea ice and ocean-based assets. Science and operational users, as well as onshore personnel, used this system for real-time practical considerations such as ship navigation, and to time scientific operations to ensure the appropriate sea ice and weather conditions prevailed. By presenting the outputs of the system within the context of case studies our results clearly demonstrate the benefits that improved situational awareness brings to ship-based operations in the Arctic Ocean, both today and in the future.

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Temperature Microstructure Instrument Controller Logger

Record of Invention Number: 47906

Luc Rainville, Jason Gobat, Adam Huxtable, Geoff Shilling


6 Dec 2016

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