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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.

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Publications

2000-present and while at APL-UW

Labrador Sea freshening linked to Beaufort Gyre freshwater release

Zhang, J., W. Weijer, M. Steele, W. Cheng, T. Verma, and M. Veneziani, "Labrador Sea freshening linked to Beaufort Gyre freshwater release," Nat. Commun., 12, 1229, doi:10.1038/s41467-021-21470-3, 2021.

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23 Feb 2021

The Beaufort Gyre (BG), the largest Arctic Ocean freshwater reservoir, has drastically increased its liquid freshwater content by 40% in the past two decades. If released within a short period, the excess freshwater could potentially impact the large-scale ocean circulation by freshening the upper subpolar North Atlantic. Here, we track BG-sourced freshwater using passive tracers in a global ocean sea-ice model and show that this freshwater exited the Arctic mostly through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, rather than Fram Strait, during an historical release event in 1983–1995. The Labrador Sea is the most affected region in the subpolar North Atlantic, with a freshening of 0.2 psu on the western shelves and 0.4 psu in the Labrador Current. Given that the present BG freshwater content anomaly is twice the historical analog studied here, the impact of a future rapid release on Labrador Sea salinity could be significant, easily exceeding similar fluxes from Greenland meltwater.

Changes in the Arctic Ocean carbon cycle with diminishing ice cover

DeGrandpre, M., W. Evans, M.-L. Timmermans, R. Krishfield, B. Williams, and M. Steele, "Changes in the Arctic Ocean carbon cycle with diminishing ice cover," Geophys. Res. Lett., 47, doi:10.1029/2020GL088051, 2020.

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28 Jun 2020

Less than three decades ago only a small fraction of the Arctic Ocean (AO) was ice free and then only for short periods. The ice cover kept sea surface p CO2 at levels lower relative to other ocean basins that have been exposed year round to ever increasing atmospheric levels. In this study, we evaluate sea surface p CO2 measurements collected over a 6‐year period along a fixed cruise track in the Canada Basin. The measurements show that mean p CO2 levels are significantly higher during low ice years. The p CO2 increase is likely driven by ocean surface heating and uptake of atmospheric CO2 with large interannual variability in the contributions of these processes. These findings suggest that increased ice‐free periods will further increase sea surface p CO2, reducing the Canada Basin's current role as a net sink of atmospheric CO2.

Springtime export of Arctic sea ice influences phytoplankton production in the Greenland Sea

Mayot, N., P.A. Matrai, A. Arjona, S. Bélanger, C. Marchese, T. Jaegler, M. Ardyna, and M. Steele, "Springtime export of Arctic sea ice influences phytoplankton production in the Greenland Sea," J. Geophys. Res., 125, doi:10.1029/2019JC015799, 2020.

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1 Mar 2020

Climate model projections suggest a substantial decrease of sea ice export into the outflow areas of the Arctic Ocean over the 21st century. Fram Strait, located in the Greenland Sea sector, is the principal gateway for ice export from the Arctic Ocean. The consequences of lower sea ice flux through Fram Strait on ocean dynamics and primary production in the Greenland Sea remain unknown. By using the most recent 16 years (2003–2018) of satellite imagery available and hydrographic in situ observations, the role of exported Arctic sea ice on water column stratification and phytoplankton production in the Greenland Sea is evaluated. Years with high Arctic sea ice flux through Fram Strait resulted in high sea ice concentration in the Greenland Sea, stronger water column stratification, and an earlier spring phytoplankton bloom associated with high primary production levels. Similarly, years with low Fram Strait ice flux were associated with a weak water column stratification and a delayed phytoplankton spring bloom. This work emphasizes that sea ice and phytoplankton production in subarctic "outflow seas" can be strongly influenced by changes occurring in the Arctic Ocean.

More Publications

In The News

Record-high Arctic freshwater will flow through Canadian waters, affecting marine environment and Atlantic ocean currents

UW News, Hannah Hickey

The Beaufort Sea, which is the largest Arctic Ocean freshwater reservoir, has increased its freshwater content by 40% over the past two decades. How and where this water will flow into the Atlantic Ocean is important for local and global ocean conditions. A study from the University of Washington, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that this freshwater travels through the Canadian Archipelago to reach the Labrador Sea, rather than through the wider marine passageways that connect to seas in Northern Europe.

24 Feb 2021

February's big patch of open water off Greenland? Not global warming, says new analysis

UW News, Hannah Hickey

In February 2018, a vast expanse of open water appeared in the sea ice above Greenland, a region that normally has sea ice well into the spring. The big pool of open water in the middle of the ice, known as a polynya, was a scientific puzzle.

18 Dec 2018

Seattle climate scientists spread word on warming, skip politics

The Seattle Times, Jerry Large

Climate scientists at the University of Washington want to talk more about their work because it and public policy are intertwined. They stick to the science side of the equation, which they want the rest of us to understand better so that we can make informed decisions about climate change.

12 Jan 2017

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