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Craig Lee

Senior Principal Oceanographer

Professor, Oceanography





Research Interests

Upper Ocean Dynamics, Coastal Ocean Processes, Internal Waves, Fronts, Dynamics and Biological Process Interactions


Dr. Lee is a physical oceanographer specializing in observations and instrument development. His primary scientific interests include: (1) upper ocean dynamics, especially mesoscale and submesocale fronts and eddies, (2) interactions between biology, biogeochemistry and ocean physics and (3) high-latitude oceanography.

With partner Dr. Jason Gobat, Lee founded and leads a team of scientists and technologists that pursues a wide range of oceanographic field programs, including intensive studies of the Kuroshio Current, coupled physical–biogeochemical studies such as the recent patch-scale investigation of the North Atlantic spring phytoplankton bloom and studies aimed at quantifying and understanding Arctic change. An important component of this work involves identifying advances that could be achieved through novel measurements and developing new instruments to meet these needs.

The team's accomplishments include autonomous gliders capable of extended operation in ice-covered waters, high-performance towed vehicles and light-weight, inexpensive mooring technologies. The team also pursues K-12 educational outreach and routinely employs undergraduate research assistants. Within the community, Lee provides leadership through service on the science steering committees for several large research programs and by serving on and chairing advisory panels for U.S. Arctic efforts. Lee supports and advises masters and doctoral students and teaches graduate level courses on observations of ocean circulation and instruments, methods and experimental design.

Department Affiliation

Ocean Physics


B.S. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of California, Berkeley, 1987

Ph.D. Physical Oceanography, University of Washington, 1995


Stratified Ocean Dynamics of the Arctic — SODA

Vertical and lateral water properties and density structure with the Arctic Ocean are intimately related to the ocean circulation, and have profound consequences for sea ice growth and retreat as well as for prpagation of acoustic energy at all scales. Our current understanding of the dynamics governing arctic upper ocean stratification and circulation derives largely from a period when extensive ice cover modulated the oceanic response to atmospheric forcing. Recently, however, there has been significant arctic warming, accompanied by changes in the extent, thickness distribution, and properties of the arctic sea ice cover. The need to understand these changes and their impact on arctic stratification and circulation, sea ice evolution, and the acoustic environment motivate this initiative.

31 Oct 2016

The Submesoscale Cascade in the South China Sea

This research program is investigating the evolution of submesoscale eddies and filaments in the Kuroshio-influenced region off the southwest coast of Taiwan.

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26 Aug 2015

Science questions:
1. What role does the Kuroshio play in generating mesoscale and submesoscale variability modeled/observed off the SW coast of Taiwan?
2. How does this vary with atmospheric forcing?
3. How do these features evolve in response to wintertime (strong) atmospheric forcing?
4. What role do these dynamics play in driving water mass evolution and interior stratification in the South China Sea?
5. What role do these dynamics/features have on the transition of water masses from northern SCS water into the Kuroshio branch water/current and local flow patterns?

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

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

Seaglider: Autonomous Undersea Vehicle

APL-UW scientists continually expand Seaglider's hardware/software systems, and sensor packages. First developed for oceanographic research, it is also used by the U.S. Navy to detect and monitor marine mammals. Recently, the manufacture and marketing of Seaglider has been licensed to Kongsberg Underwater Technology, Inc., which will push the vehicle to emerging markets in offshore environmental monitoring for the oil and gas industry.

14 Aug 2013

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2000-present and while at APL-UW

Extreme high Greenland blocking index leads to the reversal of Davis and Nares Strait net transport towards the Arctic Ocean

Myers, P.G., and 10 others including C.M. Lee, "Extreme high Greenland blocking index leads to the reversal of Davis and Nares Strait net transport towards the Arctic Ocean," Geophys. Res. Lett., 48, doi:10.1029/2021GL094178, 2021.

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16 Sep 2021

Baffin Bay exports Arctic Water to the North Atlantic while receiving northward flowing Atlantic Water. Warm Atlantic Water has impacted the retreat of tidewater glaciers draining the Greenland Ice Sheet. Periods of enhanced Atlantic Water transport into Baffin Bay have been observed, but the oceanic processes are still not fully explained. At the end of 2010 the net transport at Davis Strait, the southern gateway to Baffin Bay, reversed from southward to northward for a month, leading to significant northward oceanic heat transport into Baffin Bay. This was associated with an extreme high in the Greenland Blocking Index and a stormtrack path that shifted away from Baffin Bay. Thus fewer cyclones in the Irminger Sea resulted in less frequent northerly winds along the western coast of Greenland, allowing anomalous northward penetration of warm waters, reversing the volume and heat transport at Davis Strait.

Generation of low-latitude seamount-trapped waves: A case study of the Seychelles Plateau

Arzeno-Soltero, I.B., S.N. Giddings, G. Pawlak, J.L. McClean, H. Wang, L. Rainville, and C.M. Lee, "Generation of low-latitude seamount-trapped waves: A case study of the Seychelles Plateau," J. Geophys. Res., 126, doi:10.1029/2021JC017234, 2021.

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1 Aug 2021

Baroclinic seamount-trapped waves are thought to influence their surrounding ecosystem; however, trapped waves are not well-studied in near-equatorial settings, where stratification is strong and Burger numbers are large. Motivated by observations, we use daily output (2005–2009) from the global 0.1° Parallel Ocean Program Model (POP) to examine topographically trapped baroclinic waves around the Seychelles Plateau in the tropical Indian Ocean. These trapped waves are associated with velocity and temperature oscillations at periods of 15–16 days, similar to the dominant period of some equatorial Yanai waves. Energy flux maps using POP output suggest that quasi-biweekly equatorial Yanai waves excite trapped waves on the western and south-western flanks of the Seychelles Plateau, near the surface. The anticyclonic energy flux associated with the trapped wave extends vertically throughout the water column and around most of the plateau circumference, diminishing on the eastern flank of the plateau. This work highlights the role that equatorial planetary waves and trapped waves play in facilitating energy redistribution, dissipation, and mixing in the tropical ocean.

Bay of Bengal intraseasonal oscillations and the 2018 monsoon onset

Shroyer, E., and 49 others including C. Lee and L. Rainville, "Bay of Bengal intraseasonal oscillations and the 2018 monsoon onset," Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc., EOR, doi:10.1175/BAMS-D-20-0113.1, 2021.

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21 May 2021

In the Bay of Bengal, the warm, dry boreal spring concludes with the onset of the summer monsoon and accompanying southwesterly winds, heavy rains, and variable air-sea fluxes. Here, we summarize the 2018 monsoon onset using observations collected through the multinational Monsoon Intraseasonal Oscillations in the Bay of Bengal (MISO-BoB) program between the US, India, and Sri Lanka. MISO-BoB aims to improve understanding of monsoon intraseasonal variability, and the 2018 field effort captured the coupled air-sea response during a transition from active-to-break conditions in the central BoB. The active phase of the ~20-day research cruise was characterized by warm sea surface temperature (SST > 30°C), cold atmospheric outflows with intermittent heavy rainfall, and increasing winds (from 2 to 15 m s-1). Accumulated rainfall exceeded 200 mm with 90% of precipitation occurring during the first week. The following break period was both dry and clear, with persistent 10–12 m s-1 wind and evaporation of 0.2 mm h-1. The evolving environmental state included a deepening ocean mixed layer (from ~20 to 50 m), cooling SST (by ~ 1°C), and warming/drying of the lower to mid-troposphere. Local atmospheric development was consistent with phasing of the large-scale intraseasonal oscillation. The upper ocean stores significant heat in the BoB, enough to maintain SST above 29°C despite cooling by surface fluxes and ocean mixing. Comparison with reanalysis indicates biases in air-sea fluxes, which may be related to overly cool prescribed SST. Resolution of such biases offers a path toward improved forecasting of transition periods in the monsoon.

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In The News

During a pandemic, is oceangoing research safe?

Eos, Jenessa Duncombe

Postponing cruises. Cancelling cruises. UNOLS has extended its halt on vessel operations until July. UNOLS Chair Craig Lee explains why onboard mitigation of COVID-19 is "difficult to impossible."

1 Apr 2020

Coronavirus is wreaking havoc on scientific field work

The Washington Post, Maddie Stone

As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to upend life around the world, scientific research is beginning to suffer. Over the past several weeks, major Earth science field campaigns, some years in the making, have been called off or postponed indefinitely. Craig Lee, APL-UW Senior Principal Oceanographer and UNOLS Council Chair, comments on impacts to at-sea research.

27 Mar 2020

These ocean robots spent a year collecting data under Antarctic ice

Geek.com, Genevieve Scarano

Studying Antarctic areas can be tough for scientists, but ocean robots are here to help: A group of autonomous subs have successfully collected data beneath the Dotson Ice Shelf in West Antarctica.

24 Jan 2019

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Ogive Fairing, Cover Hatch, and Wing Drawings

Record of Invention Number: 4149-Reg-0009

Jason Gobat, Adam Huxtable, Craig Lee, Charles Eriksen, Jim Osse


25 Mar 2010

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