AIRS Research Areas

Air-Sea Exchange

  • Gas and Heat
  • Biogeochemical Cycling
  • Rainfall

Coastal Region

  • Rivers
  • Tidal Flats
  • Nearshore


  • Climate Change
  • Ocean Circulation
  • Atmospheric Rolls
  • Hurricanes


  • Microwave
  • Infrared
  • Laser
  • Hydrophone
  • Dissolved Gas


  • Wave Breaking
  • Internal Waves

Educational Opportunities

Graduate and undergraduate students who wish to study the intersection of atmospheric sciences, oceanography, and engineering at the Applied Physics Laboratory may work with AIRS advisors who have joint apointments in UW academic departments.  More >>

Graduate student Michael Schwendeman worked with advisor Jim Thomson to track and measure breaking waves in the North Pacific during an expedition to Ocean Station Papa. Mike's blog chronicled the research cruise.

What We Do

The Air-Sea Interaction and Remote Sensing (AIRS) Department is a diverse group of scientists, engineers, technical support staff, and students that conducts research focused on the air-sea interface by using a wide variety of remote sensing techniques.

Our interests range from the global scale of climate change and ocean circulation to the smallest scales of the physics of air-sea heat and gas exchange.

Our remote sensing tools also span a wide range of scales—from satellite remote sensing, to field experiments using surface and airborne platforms, and to laboratory experiments in wave tanks. Remote sensing instruments used include electro-optical sensors (microwave, infrared, and laser) and acoustic sensors (sonars and hydrophones).

Department Chair
Air-Sea Interaction and
Remote Sensing

SWIFT Tests in Arctic Waters

Graduate student researcher Seth Zippel tests SWIFT (Surface Wave Instrument Float with Tracking) performance in the Arctic in advance of planned missions to be conducted in summer 2014 during the Marginal Ice Zone experiments.  More >>


Depth, or bathymetry, is a key variable to understand how to navigate safely in a shallow water environment and it is also key to predicting the currents and waves. DARLA will help determine the extent to which data assimilation models, that are initialized and constrained with remote sensing and in situ measurements, can infer bathymetry.  More >>

Marginal Ice Zone Program

An integrated program of observations and numerical simulations will focus on understanding ice–ocean–atmosphere dynamics in and around the MIZ, with particular emphasis on quantifying changes associated with decreasing ice cover. The MIZ measurement program will employ a novel mix of autonomous technologies (ice-based instrumentation, floats, drifters, and gliders) to characterize the processes that govern Beaufort Sea MIZ evolution from initial breakup and MIZ formation though the course of the summertime sea ice retreat.  More >>

Sea State and Boundary Layer Physics of the Emerging Arctic Ocean

This ONR Departmental Research Initiative is in response to the observed decline in Arctic sea ice extent. The U.S. Navy has a renewed interest in understanding and predicting the environment in this region, including a desire to forecast the presence or absence of sea ice at a variety of lead times.  More >>

Turbulence Generated by Tides in the Canal de Chacao, Chile

At a proposed tidal energy conversion site in southern Chile, APL-UW researchers measured the magnitude and scales of turbulence — to aid the design of turbines for the site and to understand the fundamental dynamics of flows through the channel.  More >>

In the News

Wish you were here: Arctic explorer


3 Dec 2014

Jim Thomson shows what it's like to measure waves in the Arctic Ocean.

Coupeville ferry gets high-tech addition to help scientists

Everette Herald

14 Nov 2014

Both ferries on the Coupeville to Port Townsend route will now pull double-duty thanks to sensors installed on their hulls. The ferries are helping to monitor water quality in Puget Sound for the Department of Ecology and APL-UW.

Surf's up in the Arctic: Record-high waves seen in 2012

Fox News,

4 Aug 2014

Record-high waves hit Alaska's Beaufort Sea in September 2012, when Arctic sea ice shrank to an extreme summer low, a new study reports.

Recent Papers

McCaffrey, K., B. Fox-Kemper, P.E. Hamlington, and J. Thomson, "Characterization of turbulence anisotropy, coherence, and intermittency at a prospective tidal energy site: Observational data analysis," Renewable Energy, 76, 441-453, doi:10.1016/j.renene.2014.11.063, 2015.

1 Apr 2015, Link

J. Yang, S.C. Riser, J.A. Nystuen, W.E. Asher, and A.T. Jessup, "Regional rainfall measurements using the passive aquatic listener during the SPURS field campaign," Oceanography, 28, 124-133, doi:10.5670/oceanog.2015.10, 2015.

1 Mar 2015, Link

Nystuen, J.A., M.N. Anagnostou, E.N. Anagnostou, and A. Papadopoulos, "Monitoring Greeks seas using passive underwater acoustics," J. Atmos. Ocean. Technol., 32, 334-349, doi:10.1175/JTECH-D-13-00264.1, 2015.

1 Feb 2015, Link