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Rebecca Woodgate

Senior Principal Oceanographer

Professor, Oceanography






Dr. Woodgate is a physical oceanographer, specialising in polar research, with special focus on the circulation of the Arctic Ocean, interactions between sea-ice and the ocean, and the role of the polar oceans in climate. Her research concentrates on the collection and analysis of in-situ oceanographic data. She has worked for many years in the deployment and recovery of moored oceanographic instrumentation in ice-covered waters, and the analysis of both mooring and hydrographic data. She is involved in undergraduate teaching and graduate education. She has worked on British, German, Norwegian, and American research vessels and led expeditions to Bering Strait and the Arctic Ocean.

Her first degree is in physics from the University of Cambridge and her PhD (University of Oxford) is in data assimilation in ocean models. Her postdoc work was done at the Alfred-Wegener Institute in Germany.

Dr. Woodgate's research goal is to understand the physical processes in both Arctic and Antarctic regions, and to use her background to bridge the gap between theory, modeling, and real observations of the oceans.

Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center


B.A. Physics & Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge, Christ's College, 1990

Ph.D. Oceanography, University of Oxford, 1994


High Latitude Dynamics

Year-round subsurface moorings are used to study the Arctic throughout the year. PIs Aagaard and Woodgate focus on mooring and other in situ data to address a variety of Arctic questions - including flow of Atlantic and Pacific waters, interactions between the shelves and the deep basins, and the properties of the Arctic Ocean Boundary Current.


Changing Sea Ice and the Bering Sea Ecosystem

Part of the BEST (Bering Sea Ecosystem Study) Project, this study will use high-resolution modeling of Bering Sea circulation to understand past change in the eastern Bering climate and ecosystem and to predict the timing and scope of future change.


Bering Strait: Pacific Gateway to the Arctic

The Bering Strait is the only Pacific gateway to the Arctic. Since 1990, under various funding, APL-UW has been measuring properties of the Pacific inflow using long-term in situ moorings, supported by annual cruises. Data, papers, cruise reports, plans, and results are available.


More Projects


2000-present and while at APL-UW

Gateway to the Arctic: Defining the eastern channel of the Bering Strait

Zimmermann, M., R.A. Woodgate, and M.M. Prescott, "Gateway to the Arctic: Defining the eastern channel of the Bering Strait," Prog. Oceanogr., 215, doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2023.103052, 2023.

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1 Jul 2023

The Bering Strait is the sole gateway and an oceanographic bottleneck for the seasonally warm and comparatively fresh and nutrient-rich Pacific waters to flow into the Arctic, melting ice, lowering salinity, and feeding bird, mammal, and fish populations. The Diomede Islands split this small strait into two main channels, both with northward flow (in the annual mean). The eastern channel, in U.S. waters, also seasonally carries the warmer, fresher Alaskan Coastal Current. Year-round in situ mooring observations (in place since 1990 with annual servicing) show a significant flow increase in the (northward) throughflow, along with seasonal and annual fluctuations. To help with measuring and modelling water flow estimates, we created the first detailed shore-to-shore bathymetric surface of the Bering Strait's eastern channel, located its narrowest cross-section (1.8 km2) as occurring 5–10 km south of the moorings, and quantified the cross-section across the moorings (2.0 km2), both slightly larger than previously estimated (1.6 km2). Overlaps between older (~1950) and newer (~2010) bathymetry data sets identified clear areas of erosion and deposition, with much of the eastern channel having eroded by > 1 m. Since the depth is uniformly ~50 m across much of the eastern channel, the 1 m of erosion that we quantified would only slightly (2%) increase the sizes of the cross-sections. Much of the seafloor is hard substrate and probably composed of cobbles, but we hypothesize that friction from strong (~1 + knot) seafloor currents is the most likely explanation for the erosion that we observed. In softer and siltier areas, the bathymetry showed additional evidence of potential current impacts in the form of small seafloor waves (~0.5 to ~1.0 m tall) and a shore-parallel bar offshore of Cape Prince of Wales Spit. There are large (~2 m tall) seafloor waves seaward of Cape Prince of Wales Shoal. A previously undescribed (~1 to 2 km wide, ~4 m deep) seafloor channel of unknown origin occurred along a linear north/south axis for the full 75 km extent of the bathymetric surface. The southern end of this seafloor channel was near the end of three larger seafloor channels extending westerly out of nearby Norton Sound, suggesting a common origin. These Norton Sound channels may be paleodrainages, as their eastern ends point toward Seward Peninsula inlets with large drainages where paleoglaciers were reported to have existed, but the morphology of these channels is also consistent with tidal channels.

Quantifying the effect of ship noise on the acoustic environment of the Bering Strait

Escajeda, E.D., K.M. Stafford, R.A. Woodgate, and K.L. Laidre, "Quantifying the effect of ship noise on the acoustic environment of the Bering Strait," Mar. Pollut. Bull., 187, doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2022.114557, 2023.

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1 Feb 2023

The narrow Bering Strait provides the only gateway between the Pacific Ocean and the Arctic, bringing migrating marine mammals in close proximity to ships transiting the strait. We characterized ship activity in the Bering Strait during the open-water season (July–November) for 2013–2015 and quantified the impact of ship noise on third-octave sound levels (TOLs) for bands used by baleen whales (25–1000 Hz). Peak ship activity occurred in July––September with the greatest overlap in ship noise and whale vocalizations observed in October. Ships elevated sound levels by ~4 dB on average for all TOL bands combined, and 250-Hz TOLs exceeding 100 dB re 1 μPa were recorded from two large vessels over 11 km away from the hydrophones. Our results show that ship noise has the potential to impact baleen whales in the Bering Strait and serve as a baseline for measuring future changes in ship activity in the region.

Boundary currents at the northern edge of the Chukchi Sea at 166 degrees W

Li, M., R.S. Pickart, P. Lin, R.A. Woodgate, G. Wang, and L. Xie, "Boundary currents at the northern edge of the Chukchi Sea at 166 degrees W," J. Geophys. Res., 128, doi:10.1029/2022JC018997, 2023.

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1 Jan 2023

Data from two moorings deployed at 166°W on the northern Chukchi shelf and slope from summer 2002 to fall 2004, as part of the Western Arctic Shelf-Basin Interactions program, are analyzed to investigate the characteristics and variability of the flow in this region. The depth-mean velocity at the outer-shelf mooring is northeastward and bottom-intensified, while that at the upper-slope mooring is northwestward and surface-intensified. This, together with results from a high resolution ocean and sea ice reanalysis, indicates that the outer-shelf mooring sampled the seaward edge of the Chukchi Shelfbreak Jet, while the upper-slope mooring sampled the shoreward edge of the Chukchi Slope Current. The coupled variability in velocity at both sites is related to the wind stress curl over the Chukchi Sea shelf, likely via Ekman dynamics and geostrophic set up, analogous to the dynamics of both currents closer to Barrow Canyon near 157°W. Hydrographic signals are analyzed to elucidate the origin of the water masses present at this location. It is argued that the annual appearance of Pacific-origin warm water at the outer-shelf (upper-slope) mooring in late-fall and winter originates from Herald (Barrow) Canyon some months earlier. Our results constitute the first robust evidence that the westward-flowing Chukchi Slope Current persists this far west of Barrow Canyon.

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