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.

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.

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

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

  • 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., 2019. Snowpack measurements suggest role for multi-year sea ice regions in Arctic atmospheric bromine and chlorine chemistry. Elem Sci Anth, 7(1), p.14. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.352

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

  • Mayot, N., Matrai, P., Ellingsen, I. H., Steele, M., Johnson, K., Riser, S. C., & Swift, D. (2018). Assessing phytoplankton activities in the seasonal ice zone of the Greenland Sea over an annual cycleJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans123, 8004–8025. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018JC014271

  • 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. Oceans123, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018JC014298, 2018.

  • Stern, H., A. Schweiger, J. Zhang, and M. Steele, On reconciling disparate studies of the sea-ice floe size distributionElementa, 6: 49. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.304, 2018.

  • Stern HL, Schweiger AJ, Stark M, Zhang J, Steele M, Hwang B. Seasonal evolution of the sea-ice floe size distribution in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Elem Sci Anth. 2018;6(1):48,  http://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.305

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

  • Moore, G. W. K., Schweiger, A., Zhang, J., & Steele, M. (2018). Collapse of the 2017 winter Beaufort High: A response to thinning sea ice? Geophysical Research Letters, 45, 2860–2869. https://doi.org/10.1002/2017GL076446

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

  • Steele, M. and S. Dickinson, The phenology of Arctic Ocean surface warming, J. Geophys. Res., 121, 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., 2016. The Beaufort Gyre intensification and stabilization: A model‐observation synthesis. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans121(11), pp.7933-7952. https://doi.org/10.1002/2016JC012196

  • 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., 121, 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, 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., doi:10.1002/2015JC011182, 2015.

  • Doherty, S., M. Steele, I. Rigor, and S. G. Warren, Interannual variations of light-absorbing particles in snow on Arctic sea ice, J. Geophys. Res., 120, doi:10.1002/2015JD024018, 2015

  • Bieniek, P. A., U. S. Bhatt, D. A. Walker, M. K. Raynolds, J. C. Comiso, H. E. Epstein, J. E. Pinzon, C. J. Tucker, R. L. Thoman, H. Tran, N. Mölders, M. Steele, J. Zhang, and W. Ermold, Climate drivers linked to changing seasonality of Alaska coastal tundra vegetation productivity. Earth Interactions, 19, No. 19, 2015.

  • Zhang, J., A. Schweiger, M. Steele, and H. Stern, Sea ice floe size distribution in the marginal ice zone: Theory and numerical experiments, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans, 120, doi:10.1002/2015JC010770, 2015

  • Steele, M., S. Dickinson, J. Zhang, and R.W. Lindsay, Seasonal ice loss in the Beaufort Sea: Toward synchrony and prediction, J. Geophy. Res., 120, 1118-1132, doi: 10.1002/2014JC010247, 2015.

  • Zhang, J., C. Ashjian, R. Campbell, Y.H. Spitz, M. Steele, and V. Hill, The influence of sea ice and snow cover and nutrient availability on the formation of massive under-ice phytoplankton blooms in the Chukchi Sea, Deep-Sea Res. II, 118, 122-135, doi:10.1016/j.dsr2.2015.02.008, 2015.

  • Clement Kinney, J., W. Maslowski, Y. Aksenov, B. de Cuevas, J. Jakacki, A. Nguyen, R. Osinski, M. Steele, R.A. Woodgate, and J. Zhang,  On the flow through Bering Strait: A synthesis of model results and observations, Chapter 7, in The Pacific Arctic Region: Ecosystem Status and Trends in a Rapidly Changing Environment, J. M. Grebmeier and W. Maslowski (eds.), doi 10.1007/978-94-017-8863-2_4, 2014.

  • Jackson, J. M., C. Lique, M. Alkire, M. Steele, C. M. Lee, W. M. Smethie, and P. Schlosser, The origin of waters that flow through Nares Strait, Arctic Ocean, from 1991-2010, Cont. Shelf Res., 73, 10.1016/j.csr.2013.11.025, 2014

  • Lique, C., J. Guthrie, M. Steele, A. Proshutinsky, J. H. Morison, and R. Krishfield, Diffusive vertical heat flux in the Canada Basin of the Arctic Ocean inferred from moored instruments, J. Geophys. Res., 119, 10.1002/2013JC009346, 2014

  • Timmermans, M.-L., I. Ashik, I. Frolov, H. K. Ha, R. Ingvaldsen, T. Kikuchi, T. W. Kim, R. Krishfield, H. Loeng, S. Nishino, R. Pickart, I. Polyakov, B. Rabe, U. Schauer, P. Schlosser, W. M. Smethie, V. Sokolov, M. Steele, J. Toole, W. Williams, R. Woodgate, and S. Zimmermann, The Arctic, g. Ocean temperature and salinity [in “State of the Climate 2013”], Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 95(7), S128-132, 2014

  • De Steur, L., M. Steele, E. Hansen, J. Morison, I. Polyakov, S. M. Olsen, H. Melling, F. A. McLaughlin, R. Kwok, W. M. Smethie Jr., and P. Schlosser, Hydrographic changes in the Lincoln Sea in the Arctic Ocean with focus on an upper ocean freshwater anomaly between 2007 and 2010, J. Geophys. Res., 118, 4699-4715, 10.1002jgrc.20341, 2013

  • Lique, C., and M. Steele, Seasonal to decadal variability of Arctic Ocean heat content: A model-based analysis and implications for autonomous observing systems, J. Geophys. Res., 118, doi:10.1002/jgrc.20127, 2013.

  • Hill, V. J., P. A. Matrai, E. Olson, S. Suttles, M. Steele, L.A. Codispoti, R. C. Zimmerman, Synthesis of integrated primary production in the Arctic Ocean: II. In situ and remotely sensed estimates, Prog. Oceanogr., 110, doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2012.11.005, 2013.

  • Matrai, P. A., E. Olson, S. Suttles, V. J. Hill, L. A. Codispoti, B. Light, and M. Steele (2013), Synthesis of primary production in the Arctic Ocean: I. Surface waters, 1954-2007, Prog. Oceanogr., doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2012.11.004.

  • Codispoti, L. A., V. Kelly, A. Thessen, P. Matrai, S. Suttles, V. Hill, M. Steele, and B. Light (2013), Synthesis of primary production in the Arctic Ocean: III. Nitrate and phosphate based estimates of net community production, Prog. Oceanogr., 110, 126-150, doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2012.11.006.

  • Morison, J., R. Kwok, C. Peralta-Ferriz, M. Alkire, I. Rigor, R. Andersen, and M. Steele, Changing Arctic Ocean Freshwater Pathways Measured With ICESat and GRACE, Nature, 481, 66-70, DOI: 10.1038/nature10705, 2012

  • Lique, C. and M. Steele, Where can we find a seasonal cycle of the Atlantic water temperature within the Arctic Basin?, J. Geophys. Res., 117, C3, doi:10.1029/2011JC007612, 2012.

  • Popova, E. E., A. Yool, A. C. Coward, F. Dupont, C. Deal, S. Elliott, E. Hunke, M. Jin, M. Steele, J. Zhang, What controls primary production in the Arctic Ocean? Results from an ecosystem model intercomparison, J. Geophys. Res., 117, doi:10.1029/2011JC007112, 2012.

  • Hill, V. J., P. A. Matrai, E. Olson, S. Suttles, M. Steele, L. A. Codispoti, R. Zimmerman, Synthesis of primary production in the Arctic Ocean: II.  In situ and remotely sensed integrated estimates, 1999-2007, Prog. Oceanogr., doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2012.11.005, 2012.

  • Proshutinsky, A., M.-L. Timmermans, I. Ashik, A. Beszczynska-Moeller, E. Carmack, I. Frolov, R. Ingvaldsen, M. Itoh, T. Kikuchi, R. Krishfield, H. Loeng, F. McLaughlin, S. Nishino, R. Pickart, B. Rabe, B. Rudels, I. Semiletov, U. Schauer, N. Shakhova, K. Shimada, V. Sokolov, M. Steele, J. Toole, T. Weingartner, W. Williams, R. Woodgate, M. Yamamoto-Kawai, and S. Zimmermann, The Arctic, c. Ocean [in “State of the Climate in 2011”], Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., in review, 2012.

  • Schweiger, A., R. Lindsay, J. Zhang, M. Steele, H. Stern, Uncertainty in modeled arctic sea ice volume, J. Geophys. Res., doi:10.1029/2011JC007084, 2011

  • Proshutinsky, A., Y. Aksenov, J. Clement-Kinney, R. Gerdes, E. Golubeva, D. Holland, G. Holloway, A. John, M. Johnson, E. Popova, M. Steele, and E. Watanabe, Recent advances in Arctic Ocean studies employing models from the Arctic Ocean Model Intercomparison Project, Oceanography, 24(3), 102-113, 2011.

  • Steele, M., W. Ermold, and J. Zhang, Modeling the formation and fate of the near-surface temperature maximum in the Canadian Basin of the Arctic Ocean, J. Geophys. Res., 116, C11015, doi:10.1029/2010JC006803, 2011.

  • J. M. Jackson, C. Lique M. Alkire, M. Steele, C. M. Lee, W.M. Smethie and P. Schlosser: The hydrography of the North Ellesmere Shelf, Lincoln Sea, Arctic Ocean, from 1991-2011, under review for JGR.

  • Rawlings, M.A., M.Steele, M.M.Holland, J.C. Adam., J.E.Cherry, J.A.Francis, P.Y.Groisman, L.D.Hinzman, TG.Huntington, D.L.Kane, J.S.Kimball, R.Kwok, R.B.Lammers, C.M.Lee, D.P. Lettenmaier, K.C.McDonald, E.Podest, J.W.Pundsack, B.Rudels, M.C.Serreze, A.Shiklomanov, O.Skagseth, T.J.Troy, C.J.Vorosmarty, M.Wensnahan, E.F.Wood, R Woodgate, D.Yang, K.Zhang, T.Zhang, 2010, Analysis of the Arctic System for Freshwater Cycle Intersification: Observations and Expectations, Journal of Climate, 23, 5715-5737.

  • Zhang, J.L., M. Steele, and A. Schweiger, “Arctic sea ice response to atmospheric forcings with varying levels of anthropogenic warming and climate variability“, Geophys. Res. Lett, 37, L20505, doi: 10.1029/2010gl044988, 2010.

  • Laidre, K. L., M. P. Heide-Jørgensen, W. Ermold, and M. Steele, “Narwhals document continued warming of Baffin Bay”, Journal of Geophysical Research 115: C10049, doi:10.1029/2009JC005820, 2010.

  • Laidre, K. L., M. P. Heide-Jørgensen, W. Ermold, and M. Steele. 2010. Narwhals document continued warming of southern Baffin Bay. Journal of Geophysical Research 115: C10049, doi:10.1029/2009JC005820.

  • Zhang, J., Y. H. Spitz, M. Steele, C. Ashjian, R. Campbell, L. Berline, and P. Matrai, Modeling the impact of declining sea ice on the arctic marine planktonic ecosystem, J. Geophys. Res., 115, C10015, doi:10.1029/2009JC005387, 2010.

  • Proshutinsky, A., M.-L. Timmermans, I. Ashik, A. Beszczynska-Moeller, E. Carmack, I. Frolov, R. Krishfield, F. McLaughlin, J. Morison, I. Polyakov, K. Shimada, V. Sokolov, M. Steele, J. Toole, and R. Woodgate, The Arctic, c. Ocean [in “State of the Climate in 2009”], Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 91 (6), S85-87, 2010.

  • Kwok, R., S. Farrell, R. Forsberg, K. Giles, S. Laxon, D. McAdoo, J. Morison, L. Padman, C. Peralta-Ferriz, A. Proshutinsky, and M. Steele,’ Combining satellite altimetry, time-variable gravity, and bottom pressure observations to understand the Arctic Ocean: A transformative opportunity’, Proceedings of the OceanObs09: Sustained Ocean Observations and Information for Society Conference, Venice, Italy, 21-25 September 2009, Hall, J., Harrison D.E. and Stammer, D., Eds., 2, ESA Publication WPP-30, 2010.

  • Steele, M., J. Zhang, and W. Ermold, Mechanisms of summertime upper Arctic Ocean warming and the effect on sea ice melt, J. Geophys. Res., 115, C11004, doi:10.1029/2009JC005849, 2010.

  • Rawlins, M. A., M. Steele, and others, Analysis of the arctic system for freshwater cycle intensification: observations and expectations, J. Climate, vol. 23, pp5715-5737, 2010.

  • Polyakov, I. V., and others, incl. M. Steele, Arctic Ocean warming contributes to reduced polar ice cap, J. Phys. Oceanogr., 40, 2743-2756, 2010.