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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research Group: Physical Oceanography

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In our research, we seek to understand, quantify and predict the physical character of the ocean, and the dynamic processes that control its circulation and mixing.

Physical Oceanography scientists work closely with colleagues in the Marine Physics and Ocean Climate and Marine Systems Modelling group of the NERC Strategic Research Division. Together and with other collaborators worldwide, our innovative research addresses major societal issues, including the role of ocean circulation on the global climate system, the influence of ocean-atmosphere coupling on climate variability and change, operational ocean forecasting, the interaction between physical and biogeochemical processes in shelf seas, and the impact of sea-level rise and flooding on the coast communities and ecosystems. Our research covers local through to global scales, from offshore, across shelf seas, to the coast, addressing major environmental challenges as we enter the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. The Physical Oceanography group includes some 30 staff and PhD students from all around the world.

Our specific research foci include:

  • Understanding why the ocean is changing regionally and globally, with a focus on water masses, currents and mixing, impacting climate and ecosystems;
  • Investigating the processes determining the rate, structure and climatic role of the global overturning circulation;
  • Determining the impact of the retreating cryosphere on ocean circulation, sea level and climate variability;
  • Reducing the uncertainty in climate models and using efficient Earth model systems to quantify the impact of carbon and climate feedbacks on future warming and sea ice retreat;
  • Exploring methodologies for increasing resilience to environmental hazards (e.g., tropical cyclones, coastal flooding and erosion);
  • Embracing and developing techniques for continuous monitoring or collection of high spatial/temporal resolution data using autonomous systems in ocean and earth systems.

Our research is underpinned by world-class technologies including novel shipboard instruments, moorings, floats, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to make in-situ measurements of key ocean processes. We explore patterns of change and variability in satellite and in-situ measurements of surface temperature, sea level and productivity. Aligned with this suite of observations, we develop and use a wide range of coastal, ocean and climate models, to test new hypotheses, to predict climate change, and to explore the role of the ocean in the wider Earth system. We lead and participate in many research cruises every year. The group works closely with industry and government. For instance, we have advised the UK Environment Agency and World Bank on issues relating to sea-level rise and coastal flooding.

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Recovering an instrumented mooring in the Weddell Sea, Southern Ocean, from the RRS James Clark Ross
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Deploying a turbulence profiler on a research cruise in the Mediterranean
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Test closure of the Thames Barrier; Our research on sea-level rise has helped to inform the future of the Thames Barrier, which protects London from coastal flooding
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Sargassum beaching in the Caribbean; our research has helped to track Sargassum movement in the tropical Atlantic, where this seaweed has proliferated in the last decade
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Sea ice and leads in the Labrador Sea – part of the northern cryosphere, where dramatic climate change involves complex interactions between ocean, atmosphere and ice

We also have one vessel R.V. Callista based at NOCS that is available to staff and students of Ocean and Earth Science. We maintain a small amount of oceanographic equipment for deployment on the R.V. Callista, including two CTD systems, ADCPs and a towed undulating CTD system purchased in 2015.

Open ocean observational work within the Physical Oceanography is usually supported through use of the NERC National Marine Equipment Pool (NMEP), which is based at the National Oceanography Centre. Past specialist equipment purchases within SOES-led science projects are passed to the NMEP to facilitate wider community use. Modellers within the group are supported through access to range of workstations, racks and high-memory machines alongside an on-site Mobilis 1152 core HPC and the UKRI Advanced Research Computing High End Resource (ARCHER).

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