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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

Springtime export of Arctic sea ice influences phytoplankton production in the Greenland Sea

Mayot, N., P.A. Matrai, A. Arjona, S. Bélanger, C. Marchese, T. Jaegler, M. Ardyna, and M. Steele, "Springtime export of Arctic sea ice influences phytoplankton production in the Greenland Sea," J. Geophys. Res., 125, doi:10.1029/2019JC015799, 2020.

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1 Mar 2020

Climate model projections suggest a substantial decrease of sea ice export into the outflow areas of the Arctic Ocean over the 21st century. Fram Strait, located in the Greenland Sea sector, is the principal gateway for ice export from the Arctic Ocean. The consequences of lower sea ice flux through Fram Strait on ocean dynamics and primary production in the Greenland Sea remain unknown. By using the most recent 16 years (2003–2018) of satellite imagery available and hydrographic in situ observations, the role of exported Arctic sea ice on water column stratification and phytoplankton production in the Greenland Sea is evaluated. Years with high Arctic sea ice flux through Fram Strait resulted in high sea ice concentration in the Greenland Sea, stronger water column stratification, and an earlier spring phytoplankton bloom associated with high primary production levels. Similarly, years with low Fram Strait ice flux were associated with a weak water column stratification and a delayed phytoplankton spring bloom. This work emphasizes that sea ice and phytoplankton production in subarctic "outflow seas" can be strongly influenced by changes occurring in the Arctic Ocean.

Improved estimation of proxy sea surface temperature in the Arctic

Banzon, V., T.M. Smith, M. Steele, B. Huang, and H.-M. Zhang, "Improved estimation of proxy sea surface temperature in the Arctic," J. Atmos. Ocean. Technol., 37, 341-349, doi:10.1175/JTECH-D-19-0177.1, 2020.

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1 Feb 2020

Arctic sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are estimated mostly from satellite sea ice concentration (SIC) estimates. In regions with sea ice the SST is the temperature of open water or of the water under the ice. A number of different proxy SST estimates based on SIC have been developed. In recent years more Arctic quality-control buoy SSTs have become available, allowing better validation of different estimates and the development of improved proxy estimates. Here proxy SSTs from different approaches are evaluated and an improved proxy SST method is shown. The improved proxy SSTs were tested in an SST analysis, and showed reduced bias and random errors compared to the Arctic buoy SSTs. Almost all reduction in errors is in the warm melt season. In the cold season the SIC is typically high and all estimates tend to have low errors. The improved method will be incorporated into an operational SST analysis.

Evaluation and intercomparison of SMOS, Aquarius, and SMAP sea surface salinity products in the Arctic Ocean

Fournier, S., T. Lee, W. Tang, M. Steele, and E. Olmedo, "Evaluation and intercomparison of SMOS, Aquarius, and SMAP sea surface salinity products in the Arctic Ocean," Remote Sens., 11, 3043, doi:10.3390/rs11243043, 2019.

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17 Dec 2019

Salinity is a critical parameter in the Arctic Ocean, having potential implications for climate and weather. This study presents the first systematic analysis of 6 commonly used sea surface salinity (SSS) products from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Aquarius and Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellites and the European Space Agency (ESA) Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission, in terms of their consistency among one another and with in-situ data. Overall, the satellite SSS products provide a similar characterization of the time mean SSS large-scale patterns and are relatively consistent in depicting the regions with strong SSS temporal variability. When averaged over the Arctic Ocean, the SSS show an excellent consistency in describing the seasonal and interannual variations. Comparison of satellite SSS with in-situ salinity measurements along ship transects suggest that satellite SSS captures salinity gradients away from regions with significant sea-ice concentration. The root-mean square differences (RMSD) of satellite SSS with respect to in-situ measurements improves with increasing temperature, reflecting the limitation of L-band radiometric sensitivity to SSS in cold water. However, the satellite SSS biases with respect to the in-situ measurements do not show a consistent dependence on temperature. The results have significant implications for the calibration and validation of satellite SSS as well as for the modeling community and the design of future satellite missions.

More Publications

In The News

February's big patch of open water off Greenland? Not global warming, says new analysis

UW News, Hannah Hickey

In February 2018, a vast expanse of open water appeared in the sea ice above Greenland, a region that normally has sea ice well into the spring. The big pool of open water in the middle of the ice, known as a polynya, was a scientific puzzle.

18 Dec 2018

Seattle climate scientists spread word on warming, skip politics

The Seattle Times, Jerry Large

Climate scientists at the University of Washington want to talk more about their work because it and public policy are intertwined. They stick to the science side of the equation, which they want the rest of us to understand better so that we can make informed decisions about climate change.

12 Jan 2017

Cyclone did not cause 2012 record low for Arctic sea ice

UW News and Information, Hannah Hickey

"The Great Arctic Cyclone of August 2012," is thought by some to have led to the historic sea ice minimum reached in mid-September 2013. UW research suggests otherwise.

31 Jan 2013

More News Items

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