ME Seminar on “Circulation along the central California coast: Effects of winds, pressure gradients, and water mass subduction”


Monday, June 2, 2014 - 4:00pm to 5:00pm


ESB 1001


Libe Washburn, Marine Science Institute & Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara

Abstract: The Southern California Bight south of Pt. Conception is a region sheltered from the strong, prevailing equatorward winds typical of most of the California Current System. In contrast, the central California coast is strongly affected by these winds which cause frequent upwelling and strong alongshore flows. Interactions among winds, currents, and pressure gradients produce a broad range of flow phenomena important to coastal marine ecosystems. I will summarize ongoing research to understand two aspects of these flows. The first is the response of circulation over the continental shelf to abrupt relaxations of upwelling favorable winds. The second is water mass subduction and vertical transport to depth of water-borne materials such as phytoplankton. A variety of new technologies is used to observe these flows including high frequency radar for measuring surface currents and ocean gliders for measuring subsurface currents and water properties.

Bio: Libe Washburn is an oceanographer and professor working at the UCSB Marine Science Institute. He is a faculty member of the Department of Geography and is chair of the Interdepartmental Graduate Program in Marine Science. His educational background is in engineering and he worked in industry as an aerospace engineer before becoming an oceanographer. His research focuses on oceanographic studies to understand how ocean circulation processes affect marine communities in ocean environments. He currently has a number of research projects including studies to understand: 1) transient circulation processes along the California coast that develop in response to the changing winds; (2) how oceanographic processes control ocean acidification in coastal waters near shore; (3) coastal ocean dynamics using surface current patterns that are mapped using radio waves; (4) how coastal current patterns control dispersal and settlement of marine organisms into near shore habitats as part of the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO); and (5) physical-biological coupling as part of the Santa Barbara Coastal and Moorea Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research (SBC-LTER and MCR-LTER) projects. Washburn’s research is based on observations and he employs a variety of approaches in his work including high frequency (HF) radio systems for mapping surface currents, moorings, ocean gliders, and other autonomous underwater vehicles. He is an active participant in the evolving coastal ocean observing systems and is the chair of the Board of Governors of the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (

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