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Eric D'Asaro

Senior Principal Oceanographer

Professor, Oceanography





Research Interests

Physical oceanography, internal waves, air-sea interaction, upper ocean dynamics, Arctic oceanography, ocean instrumentation


Dr. D'Asaro's research spans a wide number of environments from upper ocean mixed layers to nearshore coastal fronts to fjords to deep convection. It retains studies of turbulence and internal waves, but has increasingly moved toward understanding the role of these ocean mixing processes in controlling biochemical processes in the ocean, especially gas exchange and biological productivity. By measuring big signals, like hurricanes or major blooms, it is easier to unravel the underlying processes because the signal to noise is high.

For the past 20 years, D'Asaro has focused on exploiting the unique capabilities of "Lagrangian Floats", a class of instruments that try to accurately follow the three dimensional motion of water parcels particularly in regions of strong mixing. This turns out to be a novel but effective way to measure turbulence in regions of strong mixing.

Lagrangian techniques have not been used very much in measuring mixing and turbulence. Accordingly one of the more exciting aspects of this work is learning how to use Lagrangian floats in the ocean. This understanding draws both upon basic ideas in fluid mechanics and upon understanding of mixing in the ocean. It strongly influences float design, use, and the oceanographic problems studied. The work thus spans a wide range of topics, from fluid mechanics to oceanography to engineering. That makes it particularly fun and interesting.

Chemical species in the ocean and many microbial plants and animals drift with the ocean currents. Floats mimic this behavior, making them excellent platforms for studying aspects of ocean chemistry and biology. There is an ongoing revolution in these fields as electronic sensors become capable of making measurements formerly possible only in the laboratory. Floats equipped with such sensors are potentially very powerful tools. Dr. D'Asaro works to realize this potential, which is especially challenging and interesting as he collaborates with ocean biologists and chemists to design and operate multidisciplinary floats.

Department Affiliation

Ocean Physics


B.A. Physics, Harvard University, 1976

M.S. Applied Physics, Harvard University, 1976

Ph.D. Oceanography, MIT/WHOI, 1980


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

Lateral Mixing

Small scale eddies and internal waves in the ocean mix water masses laterally, as well as vertically. This multi-investigator project aims to study the physics of this mixing by combining dye dispersion studies with detailed measurements of the velocity, temperature and salinity field during field experiments in 2011 and 2012.

1 Sep 2012

Autonomous Lagrangian Floats for Oxygen Minimum Zone Biogeochemistry

Researchers are developing a new, in situ, autonomous tool for studying N loss in oxygen minimum zones (OMZs). It will allow observation of variability over a range in temporal and spatial scales that are critical for understanding controlling processes and better estimating the magnitude of N loss. The sustained deployments possible with autonomous platforms will be critical for detecting any response of OMZs to climate change.

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31 May 2012

Intense oxygen minimum zones of the world's oceans, though constituting a small fraction of total oceanic volume, host critical biogeochemical processes and are central to understanding the ocean's N cycle and its biogeochemical and isotopic signatures. OMZs are sites for a large portion of marine combined N loss to N2 (25 to 50%) and dominate the ocean N isotope budget through cogeneration of 15N and 18O enriched NO3.

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Lagrangian Submesoscale Experiment — LASER

A science team led by Eric D'Asaro conducted a unique mission to deploy over 1,000 ocean drifters in a small area of the Gulf of Mexico. The real-time data collected from the biodegradable drifters recalibrated understanding of ocean currents.

22 Jan 2018

Eddies Drive Particulate Carbon Deep in the Ocean During the North Atlantic Spring Bloom

The swirling eddies that create patches of stratification to hold phytoplankton near the sunlit surface during the North Atlantic spring bloom, also inject the floating organic carbon particles deep into the ocean. The finding, reported in Science, has important implications for the ocean's role in the carbon cycle on Earth: phytoplankton use carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean from the atmosphere during the bloom and the resulting organic carbon near the sea surface is sequestered in the deep ocean.

27 Mar 2015

Storm Chasing in the North Pacific

A research cruise was conducted in October 2012 to find stormy conditions and heavy seas far out in the Pacific Ocean. The objectives were to measure, with remote sensing technologies, the intense winds, large waves, and the turbulence generated by wave breaking. Understanding the balance of energy going into and breaking out of waves will be used to improve open ocean wave forecasts.

2 Nov 2012

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2000-present and while at APL-UW

Observing finescale oceanic velocity structure with an autonomous Nortek acoustic Doppler current profiler

Shcherbina, A.Y., E.A. D'Asaro, and S. Nylund, "Observing finescale oceanic velocity structure with an autonomous Nortek acoustic Doppler current profiler," J. Atmos. Oceanic Technol., 35, 411–427, doi:10.1175/JTECH-D-17-0108.1, 2018.

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1 Feb 2018

This paper describes the instrumentation and techniques for long-term targeted observation of the centimeter-scale velocity structure within the oceanic surface boundary layer, made possible by the recent developments in capabilities of autonomous platforms and self-contained pulse-coherent acoustic Doppler current profilers (ADCPs). Particular attention is paid to the algorithms of ambiguity resolution ("unwrapping") of pulse-coherent Doppler velocity measurements. The techniques are demonstrated using the new Nortek Signature1000 ADCP mounted on a Lagrangian float, a combination shown to be capable of observing ocean turbulence in a number of recent studies. Statistical uncertainty of the measured velocities in relation to the ADCP setup is also evaluated. Described techniques and analyses should be broadly applicable to other autonomous and towed applications of pulse-coherent ADCPs.

Ocean convergence and the dispersion of flotsam

D'asaro, E.A., A.Y. Shcherbina, and 17 others, "Ocean convergence and the dispersion of flotsam," Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., EOR, doi:10.1073/pnas.1718453115, 2018.

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16 Jan 2018

Ocean currents move material released on the ocean surface away from the release point and, over time, spread it over an increasingly large area. However, observations also show high concentrations of the material even after significant spreading. This work examines a mechanism for creating such concentrations: downwelling of water at the boundaries of different water masses concentrates floating material at this boundary. Hundreds of satellite-tracked drifters were released near the site of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Surprisingly, most of these gathered into a single cluster less than 100 m in size, dramatically demonstrating the strength of this mechanism.

Interaction of superinertial waves with submesoscale cyclonic filaments in the North Wall of the Gulf Stream

Whitt, D.B., L.N. Thomas, J.M. Klymak, C.M. Lee, and E.A. D'Asaro, "Interaction of superinertial waves with submesoscale cyclonic filaments in the North Wall of the Gulf Stream," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 48, 81-99, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-17-0079.1, 2018.

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1 Jan 2018

High-resolution, nearly Lagrangian observations of velocity and density made in the North Wall of the Gulf Stream reveal banded shear structures characteristic of near-inertial waves (NIWs). Here, the current follows submesoscale dynamics, with Rossby and Richardson numbers near one, and the vertical vorticity is positive. This allows for a unique analysis of the interaction of NIWs with a submesoscale current dominated by cyclonic as opposed to anticyclonic vorticity. Rotary spectra reveal that the vertical shear vector rotates primarily clockwise with depth and with time at frequencies near and above the local Coriolis frequency f. At some depths, more than half of the measured shear variance is explained by clockwise rotary motions with frequencies between f and 1.7f. The dominant superinertial frequencies are consistent with those inferred from a dispersion relation for NIWs in submesoscale currents that depends on the observed aspect ratio of the wave shear as well as the vertical vorticity, baroclinicity, and stratification of the balanced flow. These observations motivate a ray tracing calculation of superinertial wave propagation in the North Wall, where multiple filaments of strong cyclonic vorticity strongly modify wave propagation. The calculation shows that the minimum permissible frequency for inertia–gravity waves is mostly greater than the Coriolis frequency, and superinertial waves can be trapped and amplified at slantwise critical layers between cyclonic vortex filaments, providing a new plausible explanation for why the observed shear variance is dominated by superinertial waves.

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Open Water Detection from Beneath Sea Ice

Record of Invention Number: 47655

Eric D'Asaro, Andrey Shcherbina


16 Mar 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