Campus Map

Ren-Chieh Lien

Senior Principal Oceanographer

Affiliate Professor, Oceanography





Research Interests

Turbulence, Internal waves, Vortical motions, Surface mixed layer and bottom boundary layer dynamics, Internal solitary waves, Small-scale vorticity, Inertial waves


Dr. Lien is a physical oceanographer specializing in internal waves, vortical motions, and turbulence mixing in the upper ocean and their effects on upper ocean heat, salinity, momentum, and energy budgets. His primary scientific research interests include: (1) upper ocean internal waves and turbulence, especially in tropical Pacific and Indian oceans, (2) strongly nonlinear internal solitary wave energetics and breaking mechanisms, (3) small-scale vortical motions, and (4) bottom boundary layer turbulence. He is especially interested in understanding the modulation of internal waves and turbulence mixing by large-scale processes, as well as the effects of small-scale processes and large-scale flows.

One of Dr. Lien most important findings is the strong modulation of turbulence mixing by large-scale equatorial processes, such as tropical instability waves and Kelvin waves, in the eastern equatorial Pacific. He is especially interested in small-scale, potential vorticity motions — the vortical mode, which operates on the same scale as internal waves — and their effects on turbulence mixing and stirring. Lien has led sea-going experiments in the Pacific and Indian oceans and the South China Sea, using a variety of instruments including microstructure profilers, Lagrangian floats, EM-APEX floats, and moorings. He also developed a real-time towed CTD chain system, designed to study small-scale water mass variability in the upper ocean at a vertical and horizontal resolution of O(1 m).

Lien mentors and supervises masters and doctoral students and postdocs. His research and experiments have been funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Department Affiliation

Ocean Physics


B.S. Marine Science, Chinese Culture University, 1978

M.S. Physical Oceanography, University of Hawaii, 1986

Ph.D. Physical Oceanography, University of Hawaii, 1990


2000-present and while at APL-UW

Energy partition between submesoscale internal waves and quasi-geostrophic vortical motion in the pycnocline

Vladoiu, A., R.-C. Lien, and E. Kunze, "Energy partition between submesoscale internal waves and quasi-geostrophic vortical motion in the pycnocline," J. Phys. Oceanogr., EOR, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-23-0090.1, 2024.

More Info

19 Feb 2024

Shipboard ADCP velocity and towed CTD chain density measurements from the eastern North Pacific pycnocline are used to segregate energy between linear internal waves (IW) and linear vortical motion (quasi-geostrophy, QG) in 2-D wavenumber space spanning submesoscale horizontal wavelengths λx ∼ 1 – 50 km and finescale vertical wavelengths λz ∼ 7 – 100 m. Helmholtz decomposition and a new Burger-number Bu decomposition yield similar results despite different methodologies. Partition between IW and QG total energies depends on 𝐵𝑢. For Bu < 0.01, available potential energy EP exceeds horizontal kinetic energy EK and is contributed mostly by QG. In contrast, energy is nearly equipartitioned between QG and IW for Bu » 1. For Bu < 2, EK is contributed mainly by IW, and EP by QG, while, for Bu > 2, contributions are reversed. Vertical shear variance is contributed primarily by near-inertial IW at small λz, implying negligible QG contribution to vertical shear instability. Conversely, both QG and IW at the smallest λx ∼ 1 km contribute large horizontal shear variance, such that both may lead to horizontal shear instability. Both QG and IW contribute to vortex-stretching at small vertical scales. For QG, the relative vorticity contribution to linear potential vorticity anomaly increases with decreasing horizontal and increasing vertical scales.

Energetic stratified turbulence generated by Kuroshio–seamount interactions in Tokara Strait

Takahashi, A., R.C. Lien, E. Kunze, B. Ma, H. Nakamura, A. Nishina, E. Tsutsumi, R. Inoue, T. Nagai, and T. Endoh, "Energetic stratified turbulence generated by Kuroshio–seamount interactions in Tokara Strait," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 54, 461-484, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-22-0242.1, 2024.

More Info

1 Feb 2024

Generating mechanisms and parameterizations for enhanced turbulence in the wake of a seamount in the path of the Kuroshio are investigated. Full-depth profiles of finescale temperature, salinity, horizontal velocity, and microscale thermal-variance dissipation rate up- and downstream of the ~10-km-wide seamount were measured with EM-APEX profiling floats and ADCP moorings. Energetic turbulent kinetic energy dissipation rates and diapycnal diffusivities above the seamount flanks extend at least 20 km downstream. This extended turbulent wake length is inconsistent with isotropic turbulence, which is expected to decay in less than 100 m based on turbulence decay time of N-1 ~100 s and the 0.5 m s-1 Kuroshio flow speed. Thus, the turbulent wake must be maintained by continuous replenishment which might arise from (i) nonlinear instability of a marginally unstable vortex wake, (ii) anisotropic stratified turbulence with expected downstream decay scales of 10–100 km, and/or (iii) lee-wave critical-layer trapping at the base of the Kuroshio. Three turbulence parameterizations operating on different scales, (i) finescale, (ii) large-eddy, and (iii) reduced-shear, are tested. Average ε vertical profiles are well reproduced by all three parameterizations. Vertical wavenumber spectra for shear and strain are saturated over 10–100 m vertical wavelengths comparable to water depth with spectral levels independent of ε and spectral slopes of –1, indicating that the wake flows are strongly nonlinear. In contrast, vertical divergence spectral levels increase with ε.

Seasonal variability of near-inertial/semidiurnal fluctuations and turbulence in the subarctic North Atlantic

Kunze, E., R.-C. Lien, C.B. Whalen, J.B. Girton, B. Ma, and M.C. Buijsman, "Seasonal variability of near-inertial/semidiurnal fluctuations and turbulence in the subarctic North Atlantic," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 53, 2717-2735, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-22-0231.1, 2023.

More Info

1 Dec 2023

Six profiling floats measured water-mass properties (Т, S), horizontal velocities (u, v) and microstructure thermal-variance dissipation rates χT in the upper ~1 km of Iceland and Irminger Basins in the eastern sub-polar North Atlantic from June 2019 to April 2021. The floats drifted into slope boundary currents to travel counterclockwise around the basins. Pairs of velocity profiles half an inertial period apart were collected every 7–14 days. These half-inertial-period pairs are separated into subinertial eddy (sum) and inertial/semidiurnal (difference) motions. Eddy flow speeds are ~O(0.1 m s-1) in the upper 400 m, diminishing to ~O(0.01 m s-1) by ~800-m depth. In late summer through early spring, near-inertial motions are energized in the surface layer and permanent pycnocline to at least 800-m depth almost simultaneously (within the 14-day temporal resolution), suggesting rapid transformation of large-horizontal-scale surface-layer inertial oscillations into near-inertial internal waves with high vertical group velocities through interactions with eddy vorticity-gradients (effective β). During the same period, internal-wave vertical shear variance was 2–5 times canonical midlatitude magnitudes and dominantly clockwise-with-depth (downward energy propagation). In late spring and early summer, shear levels are comparable to canonical midlatitude values and dominantly counterclockwise-with-depth (upward energy propagation), particularly over major topographic ridges. Turbulent diapycnal diffusivities K ~O(10-4 m2 s-1) are an order of magnitude larger than canonical mid-latitude values. Depth-averaged (10–1000 m) diffusivities exhibit factor-of-three month-by-month variability with minima in early August.

More Publications

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