Michael Steele

University of Washington
Senior Principal Oceanographer
Michael Steele Image

Mike Steele is interested in the large-scale circulation of sea ice and water in the Arctic Ocean. He uses observations collected by in situ sensors and by satellites, as well as numerical model simulations to investigate time and space variations in sea ice and ocean properties. His analysis of ocean observations has focused on the upper layers, which are generally quite cold and fresh.
A recent focus of Dr. Steele’s research is the effects of sea ice retreat on the properties of the upper Arctic Ocean. Specifically, he is looking at the warming of the upper ocean during summer. How much of this warming is due to local atmospheric heating, and how much from heating by northward-flowing ocean currents? How much of this summer heat can survive through the following fall and winter? What is the effect of this heat on the overlying sea ice cover? Dr. Steele is also collaborating with biological oceanographers to better understand how changes in ocean salinity and temperature are affecting arctic plankton and thus the marine ecosystem.
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 Forum for Arctic Modeling and Observational Synthesis, or FAMOS.
Funding for his research comes from the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Office of Naval Research, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA). He is involved with many “outreach” programs such as lectures to K-12 and college students. Dr. Steele has been with the Polar Science Center since 1987.