About Mike Steele


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.

One recent research topic 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 Consortium for the Advancement of Marine Arctic Science, or CAMAS.

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.

In The News

Selected Projects

  • UpTempO: Measuring the Upper Layer Temperature of the Arctic Ocean

    This project aims to measure the time history of summer warming and subsequent fall cooling of the seasonally open water areas of the Arctic Ocean. Investigators will focus on those areas with the greatest ice retreat i.e., the northern Beaufort, Chukchi, East Siberian, and Laptev seas. Their method will be to build up to 10 relatively inexpensive ocean thermistor string buoys per year, to be deployed in the seasonally ice-free regions of the Arctic Ocean. Arctic-ADOS buoy data will be provided to both the research and operational weather forecasting communities in near real time on the International Arctic Buoy Program (IABP) web site.

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  • The Important Little Life of Dylan Diatom

    PI: Mike Steele A 3D animation, “The Important Little Life of Dylan Diatom,” shows the plight of a diatom in the Arctic Ocean. This slice of Dylan’s life, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and animated by student Anna Czoski, shows middle school students the role of phytoplankton in the Arctic.

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  • The Arctic Ocean Model Intercomparison Project (AOMIP): Synthesis and Integration

    The AOMIP science goals are to validate and improve Arctic Ocean models in a coordinated fashion and investigate variability of the Arctic Ocean and sea ice at seasonal to decadal time scales, and identify mechanisms responsible for the observed changes.

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Selected Publications

  • Nawaz, A., J. Chung, S. Soelberg, D. Burnett, J. Kucewicz, and M. Steele, Small, Low Power Salinity Sensors Based on Solid State Potentiometry for Ocean Applications. OCEANS 2023 – MTS/IEEE U.S. Gulf Coast, doi:10.23919/oceans52994.2023.10336959, non-reviewed, 2023.

  • Castro, S.L., G.A. Wick, S. Eastwood, M. Steele, and R.T. Tonboe, Examining the consistency of sea surface temperature and sea ice concentration in Arctic satellite products, Remote Sensing. 2023; 15(11):2908, doi:10.3390/rs15112908, 2023.

  • Sledd, A., T.S. L’Ecuyer, J.E. Kay, & M. Steele, Clouds increasingly influence Arctic sea surface temperatures as CO2 rises. Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10.1029/2023GL102850, 2023.

  • Zhang, J., W. Cheng, M. Steele, & W. Weijer, Asymmetrically stratified Beaufort Gyre: Mean state and response to decadal forcing. Geophys. Res. Lett., 50, doi:10.1029/2022GL100457, 2023.

  • Hall, S.B., B. Subrahmanyam, & M. Steele, The role of the Russian Shelf in seasonal and interannual variability of Arctic sea surface salinity and freshwater content, J. Geophys. Res.: Oceans128, doi:10.1029/2022JC019247, 2023.

  • Moore, G., Steele, M., Schweiger, A.J., Zhang, J., and Laidre, K.L., Thick and old sea ice in the Beaufort Sea during summer 2020/21 was associated with enhanced transport. Commun Earth Environ 3, 198, doi:10.1038/s43247-022-00530-6, 2022.

  • Hill, V., Light, B., Steele, M., & Sybrandy, A. L., Contrasting sea-ice algae blooms in a changing Arctic documented by autonomous drifting buoys. J. Geophys. Res.: Oceans, 127, e2021JC017848, doi:10.1029/2021JC017848, 2022.

  • Zhang, C., A. F. Levine, M. Wang, C. Gentemann, C. W. Mordy, E. D. Cokelet, P. A. Browne, Q. Yang, N. Lawrence-Slavas, C. Meinig, G. Smith, A. Chiodi, D. Zhang, P. Stabeno, W. Wang, H. Ren, K. A. Peterson, S. N. Figueroa, M. Steele, N. P. Barton, and A. Huang, Evaluation of operational forecasts at Alaskan arctic sea surface using in situ observations from saildrones, Mon. Wea. Rev., 150, 1437–1455, doi: 10.1175/MWR-D-20-0379.1, 2022.

  • Vazquez-Cuervo, J., S. L. Castro, M. Steele, C. Gentemann, J. Gomez-Valdes, and W. Tang, Comparison of GHRSST SST analysis in the Arctic Ocean and Alaskan coastal waters using saildrones, Remote Sens., 14, doi:10.3390/rs14030692, 2022.

  • Li, Z., Q. Ding, M. Steele, and A. Schweiger, Recent upper Arctic Ocean warming expedited by summertime atmospheric processes. Nat. Commun., 13, 362, doi:10.1038/s41467-022-28047-8, 2022.

  • Zhong, W., S.T. Cole, J. Zhang, R. Lei, and M. Steele, Increasing winter ocean-to-ice heat flux in the Beaufort Gyre region, Arctic Ocean over 2006-2018, Geophys. Res. Lett., 49, doi:10.1029/2021GL096216, 2022.

  • Steele, M., H. Eicken, U. Bhatt, P. Bieniek, E. Blanchard-Wrigglesworth, H. Wiggins, B. Turner-Bogren, L. Hamilton, J. Little, F. Massonnet, W.N. Meier, J. Overland, M. Serreze, J. Stroeve, J. Walsh, and M. Wang, Moving sea ice prediction forward via community intercomparison, Bull. Amer. Meteorol. Soc., 102, E2226–E2228, doi:10.1175/BAMS-D-21-0159.1, 2021.

  • Tang, W., S. H. Yueh, A. G. Fore, A. Hayashi, and M. Steele, An Empirical Algorithm for Mitigating the Sea Ice Effect in SMAP Radiometer for Sea Surface Salinity Retrieval in the Arctic Seas, IEEE J. of Selected Topics in Appl. Earth Obs. Remote Sens., 14, 11986-11997, doi:10.1109/JSTARS.2021.3127470, 2021.

  • Schweiger, A., M. Steele, J. Zhang, G.W.K. Moore, and K. Laidre, Accelerated sea ice loss in the Wandel Sea points to a change in the Arctic’s Last Ice Area, Nature Commun. Earth Environ., 2, 122, doi:10.1038/s43247-021-00197-5, 2021.

  • Chiodi, A. M., C. Zhang, E. D. Cokelet, Q. Yang, C. W. Mordy, C. Gentemann, J. Cross, N. Lawrence-Slavas, C. Meinig, M. Steele, D. E. Harrison, P. Stabeno, H. Tabisola, D. Zhang, E. Burger, and K. O’Brien, Exploring the Alaskan Arctic Seasonal Ice Zone with Saildrones, Frontiers in Marine Science, doi:10.3389/fmars.2021.640697, 2021.

  • Vazquez-Cuervo, J., C. Gentemann, W. Tang, D. Carroll, H. Zhang, D. Menemenlis, J. Gomez-Valdes, M. Bouali, and M. Steele, Using Saildrones to Validate Arctic Sea-Surface Salinity from the SMAP Satellite and from Ocean Models. Remote Sens., 13(5), 831, doi:10.3390/rs13050831, 2021.

  • Zhang, J., W. Weijer, M. Steele, W. Cheng, T. Verma, & M. Veneziani, Labrador Sea freshening linked to Beaufort Gyre freshwater release., Nat. Commun., 12, 1229, doi:10.1038/s41467-021-21470-3, 2021.

  • DeGrandpre, M., W. Evans, M.-L. Timmermans, R. Krishfield, B. Williams, and M. Steele, Changes in the Arctic Ocean carbon cycle with diminishing ice cover, Geophys. Res. Lett., 47, doi:10.1029/2020GL088051, 2020.

  • 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.

  • Zhang, J., Y.H. Spitz, M. Steele, C. Ashjian, R. Campbell, & A. Schweiger, Biophysical consequences of a relaxing Beaufort gyre. Geophysical Research Letters, 47, e2019GL085990, doi:10.1029/2019gl085990, 2020.

  • Banzon, V., T.M. Smith, M. Steele, B. Huang, and H. Zhang, Improved Estimation of Proxy Sea Surface Temperature in the Arctic. J. Atmos. Oceanic Technol., 37, 341–349, doi:10.1175/JTECH-D-19-0177.1, 2020.

  • 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(24), 3043, doi:10.3390/rs11243043, 2019.

  • Zhong, W., Zhang, J., Steele, M., Zhao, J., & Wang, T., Episodic extrema of surface stress energy input to the western Arctic Ocean contributed to step changes of freshwater content in the Beaufort Gyre. Geophysical Research Letters, 46, 1217312182, doi:10.1029/2019GL084652, 2019.

  • Minnett, P. J., A. Alvera-Azcárate, T. M. Chin, G. K. Corlett, C. L. Gentemann, I. Karagali, X. Li, A. Marsouin, S. Marullo, E. Maturi, R. Santoleri, S. Saux Picart, M. Steele, and J. Vazquez-Cuervo, Half a century of satellite remote sensing of sea-surface temperature, Rem. Sens. Environ., 233, doi:10.1016/j.rse.2019.111366, 2019.

  • Peterson, P.K., Hartwig, M., May, N.W., Schwartz, E., Rigor, I., Ermold, W., Steele, M., Morison, J.H., Nghiem, S.V. and Pratt, K.A., Snowpack measurements suggest role for multi-year sea ice regions in Arctic atmospheric bromine and chlorine chemistry. Elem. Sci. Anth., 7(1), 14, doi:10.1525/elementa.352, 2019.

  • Bliss, A. C., M. Steele, G. Peng, W. N. Meier, and S. Dickinson, Regional variability of Arctic sea ice seasonal change climate indicators from a passive microwave climate data record, Environ. Res. Lett., 14, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aafb84, 2019.

  • Steele, M., A.C. Bliss, G. Peng, W.N. Meier, and S. Dickinson, Arctic Sea Ice Seasonal Change and Melt/Freeze Climate Indicators from Satellite Data, Version 1. Boulder, Colorado USA. NASA National Snow and Ice Data Center Distributed Active Archive Center, doi:10.5067/KINANQKEZI4T, 2019.

  • Zhong, W., Steele, M., Zhang, J., and Cole, S., Circulation of Pacific Winter Water in the Western Arctic Ocean, J. of Geophy. Res., 124. doi:10.1029/2018JC014604, 2019.

  • Moore, G.W.K., A. Schweiger, J. Zhang, and M. SteeleWhat caused the remarkable February 2018 North Greenland Polynya? Geophys. Res. Lett., 45, doi:10.1029/2018GL080902, 2018.

  • Mayot, N., P. Matrai, I.H. Ellingsen, M. Steele, K. Johnson, S.C. Riser, & D. Swift, Assessing phytoplankton activities in the seasonal ice zone of the Greenland Sea over an annual cycle, J. Geophys. Res.123, doi:10.1029/2018JC014271, 2018.

  • Zhang, J., A. Schweiger, M. Webster, B. Light, M. Steele, C. Ashjian, R. Campbell, and Y. Spitz, Melt pond conditions on declining Arctic sea ice over 1979-2016: Model development, validation, and resultsJ. Geophys. Res. Oceans, 123, doi:10.1029/2018JC014298, 2018.

  • Peng, G., M. Steele, A.C. Bliss, W.N. Meier, & S. Dickinson, Temporal Means and Variability of Arctic Sea Ice Melt and Freeze Season Climate Indicators Using a Satellite Climate Data Record, Remote Sens., 10(9):1328, doi:10.3390/rs10091328, 2018. 

  • Stern H.L., A.J. Schweiger, M. Stark, J. Zhang, M. Steele, B. Hwang; Seasonal evolution of the sea-ice floe size distribution in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, 6(1):48, doi:10.1525/elementa.305, 2018.

  • Hill, V.J., B. Light, M., Steele, & R.C. Zimmerman, Light availability and phytoplankton growth beneath Arctic sea ice: Integrating observations and modeling, Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 123, 36513667, doi:10.1029/2017JC013617, 2018.

  • Moore, G.W.K., Schweiger, A., Zhang, J., & Steele, M.; Collapse of the 2017 winter Beaufort High: A response to thinning sea ice? Geophysical Research Letters4528602869, doi:10.1002/2017GL076446, 2018.

  • Stern, H., A. Schweiger, J. Zhang, and M. SteeleOn reconciling disparate studies of the sea-ice floe size distribution, Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, 6:49, doi:10.1525/elementa.304, 2018.

  • Zhong, W., Steele, M.Zhang, J., & Zhao, J., Greater role of geostrophic currents in Ekman dynamics in the western Arctic Ocean as a mechanism for Beaufort Gyre stabilization. J. Geophys. Res., 123:149165, doi:10.1002/2017JC013282, 2018.

  • Alkire, M.B., J. Morison, A. Schweiger, J. Zhang, M. Steele, C. Peralta-Ferriz, and S. Dickinson, A meteoric water budget for the Arctic Ocean, Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans122, doi:10.1002/2017JC012807, 2017.

  • Lee, C. M., J. Thomson, and the Marginal Ice Zone and Arctic Sea State Teams (incl. M. Steele), An autonomous approach to observing the seasonal ice zone in the western Arctic, Oceanography 30(2):56–68, doi:10.5670/oceanog.2017.222, 2017.

  • Bhatt, U. S., D. A. Walker, M. K. Raynolds, P. A. Bieniek, H. E. Epstein, J. C. Comiso, J. E. Pinzon, C. J. Tucker, M. Steele, W. Ermold, and J. Zhang, Changing seasonality of panarctic tundra vegetation in relationship to climatic variables, Environ. Res. Lett., 12(5), doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aa6b0b, 2017.

  • Ma, B., M. Steele, and C. M. Lee, Ekman circulation in the Arctic Ocean: Beyond the Beaufort Gyre, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans, 122, 3358–3374, doi:10.1002/2016JC012624, 2017.

  • Cottier, F., Steele, M., and Nilsen, F., Sea ice and Arctic Ocean oceanography, in Sea Ice, Third Edition, D. N. Thomas (Ed.), doi:10.1002/9781118778371.ch7, 2017.

  • Steele, M. and S. Dickinson, The phenology of Arctic Ocean surface warming, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans121, doi:10.1002/2016JC012089, 2016. 

  • Zhang, J., Steele, M., Runciman, K., Dewey, S., Morison, J., Lee, C., Rainville, L., Cole, S., Krishfield, R., Timmermans, M.L. and Toole, J., The Beaufort Gyre intensification and stabilization: A model‐observation synthesis, Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 121(11), 7933-7952, doi:10.1002/2016JC012196, 2016.

  • Zhang, J., H. Stern, B. Hwang, A. Schweiger, M. Steele, and M. Stark, Modeling the seasonal evolution of the Arctic sea ice floe size distribution, Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene 4, doi:10.12952/journal.elementa.000126, 2016.

  • Castro, S., G. Wick, and M. Steele, Validation of satellite sea surface temperature analyses in the Beaufort Sea using UpTempO buoys, Rem. Sens. Environ., 187, doi:10.1016/j.rse.2016.10.035, 2016.

  • Ding, Y., J. A. Carton, G. A. Chepurin, M. Steele, and S. Hakkinen, Seasonal heat and freshwater cycles in the Arctic Ocean in CMIP5 coupled models, J. Geophys. Res., 121, doi:10.1002/2015JC011124, 2016.

  • Proshutinsky, A., M. Steele, and M.-L. Timmermans, Forum for Arctic Modeling and Observational Synthesis (FAMOS): Past, current, and future activities, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans121, doi:10.1002/2016JC011898, 2016.

  • Bieniek, P., U. Bhatt, D. Walker, M. Raynolds, J. Comiso, H. Epstein, J. Pinzon, C. Tucker, R. Thoman, H. Tran, N. Mölders, M. Steele, J. Zhang, and W. Ermold, The role of climate drivers in the seasonality of Alaska coastal tundra vegetation change, Earth Interactions, 19, doi:10.1175/EI-D-15-0013.1, 2015.

  • Steele, M., and W. Ermold, Loitering of the retreating sea ice edge in the Arctic Seas, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans, 120, 7699–7721, doi:10.1002/2015JC011182, 2015.