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Mike Steele

Senior Principal Oceanographer

Email

mas@apl.washington.edu

Phone

206-543-6586

Biosketch

Dr. Steele is interested in the large-scale circulation of sea ice and water in the Arctic Ocean. He uses both observed data and numerical model simulations to better understand the average circulation pathways as well as the causes of interannual variations in these pathways. Analysis of ocean observations has focused on the upper layers, which are generally quite cold and fresh.

Dr. Steele has active field programs in which data are collected in the field by his team and others, using aircraft, ships, and autonomous sensors like buoys and profiling floats. He is also involved with efforts to improve computer models of the arctic marine system, via the Arctic Ocean Model Intercomparison Project, AOMIP.

Funding for his research comes from the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA). He is involved with many outreach programs such as lectures to K-12 and college students. Mike Steele began work at the Polar Science Center in 1987.

Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center

Education

B.A. Physics, Reed College, 1981

Ph.D. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics, Princeton University, 1987

Projects

North Pole Environmental Observatory

The observatory is staffed by an international research team that establishes a camp at the North Pole each spring to take the pulse of the Arctic Ocean and learn how the world's northernmost sea helps regulate global climate.

 

Producing an Updated Synthesis of the Arctic's Marine Primary Production Regime and its Controls

The focus of this project is to synthesize existing studies and data relating to Arctic Ocean primary production and its changing physical controls such as light, nutrients, and stratification, and to use this synthesis to better understand how primary production varies in time and space and as a function of climate change.

 

A Modular Approach to Building an Arctic Observing System for the IPY and Beyond in the Switchyard Region of the Arctic Ocean

This project will provided for the design, development, and implementation of a component of an Arctic Ocean Observing System in the Switchyard region of the Arctic Ocean (north of Greenland and Nares Strait) that will serve the scientific studies developed for the IPY (International Polar Year), SEARCH (Study of Environmental ARctic Change), and related programs. Specifically, the project will continue and expand two aircraft-based sections between Alert and the North Pole for long-term observation of hydrographic properties and a set of tracers aimed at resolving relative age structure and freshwater components in the upper water column.

 

More Projects

Videos

Polar Science Weekend @ Pacific Science Center

This annual event at the Pacific Science Center shares polar science with thousands of visitors. APL-UW researchers inspire appreciation and interest in polar science through dozens of live demonstrations and hands-on activities.

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10 Mar 2017

Polar research and technology were presented to thousands of visitors by APL-UW staff during the Polar Science Weekend at Seattle's Pacific Science Center. The goal of is to inspire an appreciation and interest in science through one-on-one, face-to-face interactions between visitors and scientists. Guided by their 'polar passports', over 10,000 visitors learned about the Greenland ice sheet, the diving behavior of narwhals, the difference between sea ice and freshwater ice, how Seagliders work, and much more as they visited dozens of live demonstrations and activities.

The Polar Science Weekend has grown from an annual outreach event to an educational research project funded by NASA, and has become a model for similar activities hosted by the Pacific Science Center. A new program trains scientists and volunteers how to interact with the public and how to design engaging exhibits.

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.

More Videos

Publications

2000-present and while at APL-UW

Moving sea ice prediction forward via community intercomparison

Steele, M., and 15 others, "Moving sea ice prediction forward via community intercomparison," Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc., EOR, doi:10.1175/BAMS-D-21-0159.1, 2021.

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10 Aug 2021

The Sea Ice Prediction Network—Phase 2 (SIPN2) is a multi-agency international effort to compare seasonal sea ice prediction methods and results at pan-Arctic, pan-Antarctic, and regional spatial scales using a multi-disciplinary approach that includes modeling, data analysis, and scientific networks. SIPN2 builds on lessons learned during the first phase of the Sea Ice Prediction Network (2014–2017), and since then has expanded in scope with activities that have included community seminars, workshops, and extensive research on the topic of seasonal sea ice prediction.

Accelerated sea ice loss in the Wandel Sea points to a change in the Arctic's Last Ice Area

Schweiger, A.J., M. Steele, J. Zhang, G.W.K. Moore, and K.L. Laidre, "Accelerated sea ice loss in the Wandel Sea points to a change in the Arctic's Last Ice Area," Comm. Earth Environ., 2, doi:, 2021.

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1 Jul 2021

The Arctic Ocean's Wandel Sea is the easternmost sector of the Last Ice Area, where thick, old sea ice is expected to endure longer than elsewhere. Nevertheless, in August 2020 the area experienced record-low sea ice concentration. Here we use satellite data and sea ice model experiments to determine what caused this record sea ice minimum. In our simulations there was a multi-year sea-ice thinning trend due to climate change. Natural climate variability expressed as wind-forced ice advection and subsequent melt added to this trend. In spring 2020, the Wandel Sea had a mixture of both thin and — unusual for recent years — thick ice, but this thick ice was not sufficiently widespread to prevent the summer sea ice concentration minimum. With continued thinning, more frequent low summer sea ice events are expected. We suggest that the Last Ice Area, an important refuge for ice-dependent species, is less resilient to warming than previously thought.

Exploring the Pacific Arctic seasonal ice zone with saildrone USVs

Chiodi, A.M., and 16 others including M. Steele, "Exploring the Pacific Arctic seasonal ice zone with saildrone USVs," Front. Mar. Sci., 8, doi:10.3389/fmars.2021.640697, 2021.

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3 May 2021

More high-quality, in situ observations of essential marine variables are needed over the seasonal ice zone to better understand Arctic (or Antarctic) weather, climate, and ecosystems. To better assess the potential for arrays of uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs) to provide such observations, five wind-driven and solar-powered saildrones were sailed into the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas following the 2019 seasonal retreat of sea ice. They were equipped to observe the surface oceanic and atmospheric variables required to estimate air-sea fluxes of heat, momentum and carbon dioxide. Some of these variables were made available to weather forecast centers in real time. Our objective here is to analyze the effectiveness of existing remote ice navigation products and highlight the challenges and opportunities for improving remote ice navigation strategies with USVs. We examine the sources of navigational sea-ice distribution information based on post-mission tabulation of the sea-ice conditions encountered by the vehicles. The satellite-based ice-concentration analyses consulted during the mission exhibited large disagreements when the sea ice was retreating fastest (e.g., the 10% concentration contours differed between analyses by up to ~175 km). Attempts to use saildrone observations to detect the ice edge revealed that in situ temperature and salinity measurements varied sufficiently in ice bands and open water that it is difficult to use these variables alone as a reliable ice-edge indicator. Devising robust strategies for remote ice zone navigation may depend on developing the capability to recognize sea ice and initiate navigational maneuvers with cameras and processing capability onboard the vehicles.

More Publications

In The News

Arctic's 'last ice area' may be less resistant to global warming

The New York Times, Henry Fountain

The region, which could provide a last refuge for polar bears and other Arctic wildlife that depends on ice, is not as stable as previously thought, according to a new study.

1 Jul 2021

Arctic's 'last ice area' shows earlier-than-expected melt

Associated Press, Seth Borenstein

Part of the Arctic is nicknamed the 'Last Ice Area,' because floating sea ice there is usually so thick that it’s likely to withstand global warming for decades. So, scientists were shocked last summer when there was suddenly enough open water for a ship to pass through.

1 Jul 2021

Climate change: 'Last refuge' for polar bears is vulnerable to warming

BBC News, Matt McGrath

The region, dubbed the 'last ice area' had been expected to stay frozen far longer than other parts of the Arctic. But new analysis says that this area suffered record melting last summer. The researchers say that high winds allied to a changing climate were behind the unexpected decline.

1 Jul 2021

More News Items

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