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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

Thick and old sea ice in the Beaufort Sea during summer 2020/21 was associated with enhanced transport

Moore, G.W.K., M. Steele, A.J. Schweiger, J.L. Zhang, and K.L. Laidre, "Thick and old sea ice in the Beaufort Sea during summer 2020/21 was associated with enhanced transport," Commun. Earth Environ., 3, doi:10.1038/s43247-022-00530-6, 2022.

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30 Aug 2022

The Arctic Ocean has seen a remarkable reduction in sea ice coverage, thickness and age since the 1980s. These changes are most pronounced in the Beaufort Sea, with a transition around 2007 from a regime dominated by multi-year sea ice to one with large expanses of open water during the summer. Using satellite-based observations of sea ice, an atmospheric reanalysis and a coupled ice-ocean model, we show that during the summers of 2020 and 2021, the Beaufort Sea hosted anomalously large concentrations of thick and old ice. We show that ice advection contributed to these anomalies, with 2020 dominated by eastward transport from the Chukchi Sea, and 2021 dominated by transport from the Last Ice Area to the north of Canada and Greenland. Since 2007, cool season (fall, winter, and spring) ice volume transport into the Beaufort Sea accounts for ~45% of the variability in early summer ice volume — a threefold increase from that associated with conditions prior to 2007. This variability is likely to impact marine infrastructure and ecosystems.

Contrasting sea-ice algae blooms in a changing Arctic documented by autonomous drifting buoys

Hill, V., B. Light, M. Steele, and A.L. Sybrandy, "Contrasting sea-ice algae blooms in a changing Arctic documented by autonomous drifting buoys," J. Geophys. Res., 127, doi:10.1029/2021JC017848, 2022.

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11 Jul 2022

Novel observations of the seasonal evolution of an ice algal bloom on the Chukchi shelf were collected by two autonomous buoys deployed 180 km apart in first-year drifting sea ice. High attenuation of blue light in the bottom of the ice indicated considerable accumulation of ice algae biomass with derived Chlorophyll-a concentrations (Chl a) up to 184 mg m-2. Differences in the magnitude and persistence of ice algae biomass under each buoy appear to have been driven by differences in snow thickness, as ice thickness was similar between the sites. Minimal snow cover (0.02 m) around one buoy was associated with algae growth beginning in mid-May and lasting 70 days. The second buoy had notably more snow (0.4 m), causing ice algae production to lag behind the first site by approximately 4 weeks. The delay in growth diminished the peak of ice algae Chl a and duration compared to the first site. Light attenuation through the ice was intense enough at both buoys to have a potentially inhibiting impact on water column phytoplankton Chl a. Modeling ice algae growth with observed light intensities determined that nutrients were the limiting resource at the low snow site. In contrast, the algae at the high snow site were light-limited and never nutrient-limited. These data point toward changes in ice algae phenology with an earlier and longer window for growth; and nutrients rather than light determining the longevity and magnitude of production.

Comparison of GHRSST SST analysis in the Arctic Ocean and Alaskan coastal waters using saildrones

Vazquez-Cuervo, J., S.L. Castro, M. Steele, C. Gentemann, J. Gomez-Valdes, and W. Tang, "Comparison of GHRSST SST analysis in the Arctic Ocean and Alaskan coastal waters using saildrones," Remote Sens., 14, doi:10.3390/rs14030692, 2022.

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1 Feb 2022

There is high demand for complete satellite SST maps (or L4 SST analyses) of the Arctic regions to monitor the rapid environmental changes occurring at high latitudes. Although there are a plethora of L4 SST products to choose from, satellite-based products evolve constantly with the advent of new satellites and frequent changes in SST algorithms, with the intent of improving absolute accuracies. The constant change of these products, as reflected by the version product, make it necessary to do periodic validations against in situ data. Eight of these L4 products are compared here against saildrone data from two 2019 campaigns in the western Arctic, as part of the MISST project. The accuracy of the different products is estimated using different statistical methods, from standard and robust statistics to Taylor diagrams. Results are also examined in terms of spatial scales of variability using auto- and cross-spectral analysis. The three products with the best performance, at this point and time, are used in a case study of the thermal features of the Yukon–Kuskokwim delta. The statistical analyses show that two L4 SST products had consistently better relative accuracy when compared to the saildrone subsurface temperatures. Those are the NOAA/NCEI DOISST and the RSS MWOI SSTs. In terms of the spectral variance and feature resolution, the UK Met Office OSTIA product appears to outperform all others at reproducing the fine scale features, especially in areas of high spatial variability, such as the Alaska coast. It is known that L4 analyses generate small-scale features that get smoothed out as the SSTs are interpolated onto spatially complete grids. However, when the high-resolution satellite coverage is sparse, which is the case in the Arctic regions, the analyses tend to produce more spurious small-scale features. The analyses here indicate that the high-resolution coverage, attainable with current satellite infrared technology, is too sparse, due to cloud cover to support very high resolution L4 SST products in high latitudinal regions. Only for grid resolutions of ~9–10 km or greater does the smoothing of the gridding process balance out the small-scale noise resulting from the lack of high-resolution infrared data. This scale, incidentally, agrees with the Rossby deformation radius in the Arctic Ocean (~10 km).

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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