Physical Oceanography

The Physical Oceanography Division is comprised of scientists, engineers, and technical support staff that aid NOAA’s mission by observing and studying ocean and climate dynamics, the physical drivers of ecosystem variability, and the impacts of natural and anthropogenic activities on marine resources. We study how ocean changes affect climate and marine ecosystems as well as coastal and inland communities. We also share and build on the current state of knowledge by maintaining valuable, long-term datasets of changes over time.

Physical Oceanography

The Physical Oceanography Division is comprised of scientists, engineers, and technical support staff that aid NOAA’s mission by observing and studying ocean and climate dynamics, the physical drivers of ecosystem variability, and the impacts of natural and anthropogenic activities on marine resources. We study how ocean changes affect climate and marine ecosystems as well as coastal and inland communities. We also share and build on the current state of knowledge by maintaining valuable, long-term datasets of changes over time.

Research Themes

Monitoring the Ocean Improves Hurricane Intensity Forecasts

Improvements in hurricane intensity forecasts for the Atlantic have lagged in comparison to hurricane track forecasts. Rapid hurricane intensification is often observed when tropical cyclones move over warm ocean features, given appropriate atmospheric conditions. AOML plays a key role in collecting and maintaining sustained ocean observations that monitor the thermal structure of these warm ocean features using drifters, Argo floats, XBTs, moorings, etc. Since 2014, sustained and targeted ocean observations have been gathered in support of hurricane intensity forecasts using underwater gliders.

Overturning Oceans & Societal Impacts

The overturning circulation is one of the primary ways that the oceans move heat, salt, carbon and nutrients throughout the global oceans. Achieving a more complete understanding of the behavior of the Atlantic Meridional (north/south) Overturning Circulation (AMOC) requires an observational network that spans the entire basin. Changes in the AMOC over time have a pronounced impact on a variety of socially important weather and climate phenomena, on the blue economy, and on commerce. AOML scientists have shown that these changes predict precipitation changes around the world.

Ocean Monitoring to Protect Marine Mammals and Manage Fisheries

Ship strikes are a major source of injury and death for critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. The Physical Oceanography Division has developed and currently hosts the Mandatory Ship Reporting System, which is operated by NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service and the United States Coast Guard, to protect whales by reducing the number of ship strikes and improve overall maritime safety. AOML researchers also provide real-time ocean products that are used by NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service to improve stock assessment and management of Atlantic bluefin tuna.

If You Like Your Weather Forecast, Thank an Oceanographer

AOML designs, implements, and maintains key components of the global ocean observing system. These ocean observations are a crucial component for weather and climate forecasts and outlooks. Variables that are typically observed are: temperature and heat content, ocean currents, eddies, and frontal regions, and salinity, surface pressure, and Meridional heat transport, and volume transport. Recent studies have shown that ocean in-situ observations in the Atlantic Ocean improve the forecast of Nor’easters more than any other observing platforms, including satellites. Without ocean observations, which provide initial and boundary conditions, weather forecasts would have large errors even at short 12-hours forecasts.

Oceanographers Help Improve Outlooks of U.S. Tornado Outbreaks

In 2013, AOML scientists found that the springtime El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate phenomenon generates large-scale atmospheric conditions that are conducive to intense tornado outbreaks in the United States. Since 2016, PHOD scientists have provided NOAA’s National Weather Service with a seasonal outlook for US regional tornado activity. This outlook is used as a forecast tool for the NOAA Climate Prediction Center’s experimental Seasonal Severe Weather Outlook.

Ocean Observations help Understand and Forecast extreme Weather Events

Scientist from the Physical Oceanography Division at NOAA/AOML designs, implements, and maintains key components of the global ocean observing system whose data are crucial for weather and climate forecasts. Without ocean observations, which provide initial and boundary conditions to forecast models, weather forecasts would have large errors. PHOD scientists are also working toward improving subseasonal to seasonal forecasts of extreme weather phenomena such as hurricanes, tornadoes and heat waves by using key ocean indicators and processes as the predictors.

Research Themes

Monitoring the Ocean Improves Hurricane Intensity Forecasts Hurricane Glider Project

Improvements in hurricane intensity forecasts for the Atlantic have lagged in comparison to hurricane track forecasts. Rapid hurricane intensification is often observed when tropical cyclones move over warm ocean features, given appropriate atmospheric conditions. AOML plays a key role in collecting and maintaining sustained ocean observations that monitor the thermal structure of these warm ocean features using drifters, Argo floats, XBTs, moorings, etc. Since 2014, sustained and targeted ocean observations have been gathered in support of hurricane intensity forecasts using underwater gliders.

Visit the Glider Project Page for more.

Overturning Oceans & Societal Impacts The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation

The overturning circulation is one of the primary ways that the oceans move heat, salt, carbon and nutrients throughout the global oceans. Achieving a more complete understanding of the behavior of the Atlantic Meridional (north/south) Overturning Circulation (AMOC) requires an observational network that spans the entire basin. Changes in the AMOC over time have a pronounced impact on a variety of socially important weather and climate phenomena, on the blue economy, and on commerce. AOML scientists have shown that these changes predict precipitation changes around the world.

Overturning Monitoring To Protect Marine Mammals and Fisheries

Ship strikes are a major source of injury and death for critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. The Physical Oceanography Division has developed and currently hosts the Mandatory Ship Reporting System, which is operated by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service and the United States Coast Guard, to protect whales by reducing the number of ship strikes and improve overall maritime safety. AOML researchers also provide real-time ocean products that are used by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to improve stock assessment and management of Atlantic bluefin tuna.

If You Like your Weather Forecast Thank an Oceanographer

AOML designs, implements, and maintains key components of the global ocean observing system. These ocean observations are a crucial component for weather and climate forecasts and outlooks. Variables that are typically observed are: temperature and heat content, ocean currents, eddies, and frontal regions, and salinity, surface pressure, and Meridional heat transport, and volume transport. Recent studies have shown that ocean in-situ observations in the Atlantic Ocean improve the forecast of Nor’easters more than any other observing platforms, including satellites. Without ocean observations, which provide initial and boundary conditions, weather forecasts would have large errors even at short 12-hours forecasts.

Oceanographers Help Improve Outlooks U.S. Tornado Outbreaks

In 2013, AOML scientists found that the springtime El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate phenomenon generates large-scale atmospheric conditions that are conducive to intense tornado outbreaks in the United States. Since 2016, PHOD scientists have provided NOAA’s National Weather Service with a seasonal outlook for US regional tornado activity. This outlook is used as a forecast tool for the NOAA Climate Prediction Center’s experimental Seasonal Severe Weather Outlook.

Featured Projects

Featured Projects

Physical Oceanography Data

Data from buoys, satellites, and instruments on the sea floor can be accessed on our Data page or by clicking the links below.

The Global Ocean Observing System

Map of Global Drifter array showing locations of real-time available data. Image Credit: AOML NOAA.

We are Strong because of our Community.

AOML works with partners around the world to develop and maintain key components of these systems of observing technologies, known collectively as the Global Ocean Observing System. The resulting observations have been shown to improve weather forecasts and advance our knowledge of climate fluctuations. AOML scientists design and operate new observing technologies and systems, deploy them in the ocean around the world, coordinate deployments with partners to maximize efficiency, and manage several critical aspects of data flow to insure that the data are available and of the highest quality. Learn more about how AOML contributes to the Global Ocean Observing System.

Project Highlight

Detecting Changes in Ocean and Atmosphere

Western Boundary Time Series

AOML detects changes in the ocean and atmosphere through its global ocean observing system. Working with international and commercial partners, AOML has been able to expand long-term climate monitoring efforts that reach far beyond South Florida with non-stationary instrumentation and cruise networks. One such cruise, the Western Boundary Time Series, is a long-term observing project aids in measuring the speed of the Florida Current. This current is directly related to the Meridional Overturning Circulation, and therefore to the global climate.

Science Seminars

phodnews

Research Highlights

Recently, scientists at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) and the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) explored the physical causes between U.S. tornado activity and the Madden-Julian Oscillation. In a study recently published in the Journal of Climate (Kim et al., 2020), they showed that a series of key atmosphere-ocean processes are involved in the remote impact of Madden-Julian Oscillation on U.S. tornado activity.

  • 11May

    Connection between Madden-Julian Oscillation and U.S Tornadoes may Provide Earlier Warning for Storms

    Read More →
  • 28Feb

    Pods Away! New Autonomous Data Pods Will Provide Low-Cost, Reliable Data Retrieval

    Read More →
  • 28Feb

    Glider School, Class Is in Session!

    Read More →
  • 20Feb

    Out at Sea With Our Heads in the Clouds

    Read More →
  • 05Feb

    Argo Biogeochemical Sensors Poised to Enhance Ocean Observing Capability

    Read More →

Featured Publication

Screengrab of PDF paper "Mechanisms of Eddy-Driven Variability of the Florida Current" Photo Credit, NOAA.

Featured Publication

Mechanisms of Eddy-Driven Variability of the Florida Current

Abstract: In this study, mechanisms causing year-to-year changes in the Florida Current seasonality are investigated using controlled realistic numerical experiments designed to isolate the western boundary responses to westward propagating open ocean signals. The experiments reveal two distinct processes by which westward propagating signals can modulate the phase of the Florida Current variability, which we refer to as the “direct” and “indirect” response mechanisms. The direct response mechanism involves a two-stage response to open ocean anticyclonic eddies characterized by the direct influence of Rossby-wave barotropic anomalies, and baroclinic wall-jets that propagate through Northwest Providence Channel. In the indirect response mechanism, open ocean signals act as small perturbations to the stochastic Gulf Stream variability downstream, which are then transmitted upstream to the Florida Straits through baroclinic coastally trapped signals that can rapidly travel along the U.S. East Coast. Experiments indicate that westward propagating eddies play a key role in modulating the phase of the Florida Current variability, but not the amplitude, which is determined by its intrinsic variability in our simulations. Results from this study further suggest that the Antilles Current may act as a semi-permeable barrier to incoming signals, favoring the interaction through the indirect response mechanism. The mechanisms reported here can be potentially linked to year-to-year changes in the seasonality of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, and may also be present in other western boundary current systems.

Screengrab of PDF paper "Mechanisms of Eddy-Driven Variability of the Florida Current" Photo Credit, NOAA.

Looking for scientific literature? Visit our Publication Database.

Driving Innovative Science

Project Report

This project report provides highlights of ongoing research projects that are either led by or involve AOML scientists together with essential science support personnel from NOAA, the University of Miami/Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS), and our international partners.

Contact

Gustavo Goni, Ph.D.
305.361.4339

| Gustavo Goni, Ph.D.

Director, Physical Oceanography Division

Rick Lumpkin Headshot. Photo Credit: AOML, NOAA.

Rick Lumpkin, Ph.D.
305.361.4513

| Rick Lumpkin, Ph.D.

Deputy Director, Physical Oceanography Division

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