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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. Starting from a core interest in turbulence and internaI waves, it has expanded to include new aspects of small-scale oceanography, including submesoscale processes, and the role of all of these mixing processes in controlling biochemical processes in the ocean, including the distribution and fluxes of ocean gases 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 30 years, D'Asaro’s experimental work 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


Wave Measurements at Ocean Weather Station PAPA

As part of a larger project to understand the impact of surface waves on the ocean mixed layer, APL-UW is measuring waves at Ocean Weather Station Papa, a long-term observational site at N 50°, W 145°.

29 Aug 2019

Air–Sea Momentum Flux in Tropical Cyclones

The intensity of a tropical cyclone is influenced by two competing physical processes at the air–sea interface. It strengthens by drawing thermal energy from the underlying warm ocean but weakens due to the drag of rough ocean surface. These processes change dramatically as the wind speed increases above 30 m/s.

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30 Mar 2018

The project is driven by the following science questions: (1) How important are equilibrium-range waves in controlling the air-sea momentum flux in tropical cyclones? We hypothesize that for wind speeds higher than 30 m/s the stress on the ocean surface is larger than the equilibrium-range wave breaking stress. (2) How does the wave breaking rate vary with wind speed and the complex surface wave field? At moderate wind speeds the wave breaking rate increases with increasing speed. Does this continue at extreme high winds? (3) Can we detect acoustic signatures of sea spray at high winds? Measurements of sea spray in tropical cyclones are very rare. We will seek for the acoustic signatures of spray droplets impacting the ocean surface. (4) What are the processes controlling the air-sea momentum flux?

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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EXPORTS: Export Processes in the Ocean from RemoTe Sensing

The EXPORTS mission is to quantify how much of the atmospheric carbon dioxide fixed during primary production near the ocean surface is pumped to the deep twilight zone by biological processes, where it can be sequestered for months to millennia.

An integrated observation strategy leverages the precise, intense measurements made on ships, the persistent subsurface data collected by swimming and floating robots, and the global surface views provided by satellites.

18 Sep 2018

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

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2000-present and while at APL-UW

3D intrustions transport active surface microbial assemblages to the dark ocean

Freilich, M.A., and 14 others including E.A. D'Asaro, "3D intrustions transport active surface microbial assemblages to the dark ocean," Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA, 121, doi:10.1073/pnas.2319937121, 2024.

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2 May 2024

Subtropical oceans contribute significantly to global primary production, but the fate of the picophytoplankton that dominate in these low-nutrient regions is poorly understood. Working in the subtropical Mediterranean, we demonstrate that subduction of water at ocean fronts generates 3D intrusions with uncharacteristically high carbon, chlorophyll, and oxygen that extend below the sunlit photic zone into the dark ocean. These contain fresh picophytoplankton assemblages that resemble the photic-zone regions where the water originated. Intrusions propagate depth-dependent seasonal variations in microbial assemblages into the ocean interior. Strikingly, the intrusions included dominant biomass contributions from nonphotosynthetic bacteria and enrichment of enigmatic heterotrophic bacterial lineages. Thus, the intrusions not only deliver material that differs in composition and nutritional character from sinking detrital particles, but also drive shifts in bacterial community composition, organic matter processing, and interactions between surface and deep communities. Modeling efforts paired with global observations demonstrate that subduction can flux similar magnitudes of particulate organic carbon as sinking export, but is not accounted for in current export estimates and carbon cycle models. Intrusions formed by subduction are a particularly important mechanism for enhancing connectivity between surface and upper mesopelagic ecosystems in stratified subtropical ocean environments that are expanding due to the warming climate.

Evidence of Langmuir mixing effects in the upper ocean layer during tropical cyclones using observations and a coupled wave–ocean model

Zhou, X., T. Hara, I. Ginis, E. D'Asaro, and B.G. Reichl, "Evidence of Langmuir mixing effects in the upper ocean layer during tropical cyclones using observations and a coupled wave–ocean model," J. Geophys. Res., 128, doi:10.1029/2023JC020062, 2023.

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1 Oct 2023

Mixing of the ocean beneath tropical cyclones (TC) cools the surface temperature thereby modifying the storm intensity. Modeling studies predict that surface wave forcing through Langmuir turbulence (LT) increases the mixing and cooling and decreases near-surface vertical velocity shear. However, there are very few quantitative observational validations of these model predictions, and the validation efforts are often limited by uncertainties in the drag coefficient (Cd). We combine EM-APEX and Lagrangian float measurements of temperature, salinity, velocity, and vertical turbulent kinetic energy (VKE) from five TCs with a coupled ocean–wave model (Modular Ocean Model 6 — WAVEWATCH III) forced by the drag coefficient Cd directly constrained for these storms. On the right-hand of the storms in the northern hemisphere, where wind and waves are nearly aligned, the measured VKE is consistent with predictions of models including LT and 2–3 times higher than predictions without LT. Similarly, vertical shear in the upper 20 m is small, consistent with predictions of LT models and inconsistent with the large shears predicted by models without LT. On the left-hand of the storms, where wind and waves are misaligned, the observed VKE and cooling are reduced compared to those on the right-hand, consistent with the measured decrease in Cd. These results confirm the importance of surface waves for ocean cooling and thus TC intensity, through both Cd and LT effects. However, the model predictions, even with the LT parameterization, underestimate the upper ocean cooling and mixed layer deepening by 20%–30%, suggesting possible deficiency of the existing LT parameterization.

Eddy tracking from in situ and satellite observations

Erickson, Z.K., E. Fields, L. Johnson, A.F. Thompson, L.A. Dove, E. D'Asaro, and D.A. Siegel, "Eddy tracking from in situ and satellite observations," J. Geophys. Res., 128, doi:10.1029/2023JC019701, 2023.

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1 Aug 2023

Mesoscale eddies are a dominant source of spatial variability in the surface ocean and play a major role in the biological marine carbon cycle. Satellite altimetry is often used to locate and track eddies, but this approach is rarely validated against in situ observations. Here we compare measurements of a small (under 25 km radius) mode water anticyclonic eddy over the Porcupine Abyssal Plain in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean using CTD and Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) measurements from three ships, two gliders, two profiling floats, and one Lagrangian float with those derived from sea level anomaly (SLA). In situ estimates of the eddy center were estimated from maps of the thickness of its central isopycnal layer, from ADCP velocities at a reference depth, and from the trajectory of the Lagrangian float. These were compared to three methods using altimetric SLA: one based on maximizing geostrophic rotation, one based on a constant SLA contour, and one which maximizes geostrophic velocity speed along the eddy boundary. All algorithms were used to select CTD profiles that were within the eddy. The in-situ metrics agreed to 97%. The altimetry metrics showed only a small loss of accuracy, giving >90% agreement with the in situ results. This suggests that current satellite altimetry is adequate for understanding the spatial representation of even relatively small mesoscale eddies.

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In The News

NASA, NSF expedition to study ocean carbon embarks in August from Seattle

UW News, Hannah Hickey

Dozens of scientists, as well as underwater drones and other high-tech ocean instruments, will set sail from Seattle in mid-August. Funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation, the team will study the life and death of the small organisms that play a critical role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and in the ocean’s carbon cycle.

21 Jun 2018

Scientists watch ocean plastic hotspots form in real time

NewsDeeply, Erica Cirino

Researchers tracked hundreds of buoys deployed in the Gulf of Mexico. Not only did the buoys not spread out – many concentrated into an area the size of a football stadium. The findings may help scientists pinpoint areas for plastic or oil-spill cleanup.

6 Feb 2018

Temporary 'bathtub drains' in the ocean concentrate flotsam

UW News, Hannah Hickey

An experiment featuring the largest flotilla of sensors ever deployed in a single area provides new insights into how marine debris, or flotsam, moves on the surface of the ocean.

18 Jan 2018

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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