Marine Physics and Ocean Climate

Marine Physics and Ocean Climate

The study of marine physics and ocean climate at the NOC focuses on the fundamental physical processes in the marine environment and their connection with, and influence on, the rest of the Earth system. Our research spans microscopic to global scales, extends from the coast to the abyssal ocean, and includes boundary layer interactions with both the atmosphere and the seabed.

Scientific research at the NOC uses a wide range of measurements from ships, moorings, gliders, autonomous vehicles and satellites and drives forward technology development. Much of our research is carried out with academic and international partners across the world, but with a particular focus on the Atlantic, Arctic and Southern oceans as well as the world’s continental shelves.

We collaborate widely with other research areas and work very closely with computer modellers to develop a complete description of ocean processes in climate models, and thus provide better predictions of the impacts of climate change. By combining real-time observations with state-of-the-art models we also contribute to operational modelling systems for environmental monitoring and coastal flood forecasting.

Ocean physics and circulation in connection with the atmosphere, ice-covered regions and the marine biogeochemical system have a strong influence on our climate. Working over a huge range of spatial scales, from turbulence to basin-wide circulation and fluxes, and on time scales from hourly to multi-decadal, the NOC makes measurements from ships, autonomous vehicles (floats and gliders), deep ocean moorings, ice-tethered platforms and satellites. Much of the research is conducted with international partners in all corners of the world’s oceans, but with a particular focus on the Atlantic and Southern Ocean and the Arctic.

With their near-global coverage, satellites provide a unique view of the surface properties of the ocean. Satellite Oceanography research at the NOC is concerned with measuring exchanges between the atmosphere, ocean, and the marine biosphere in order to better predict the response of the marine system to climate change. We contribute towards developing and sustaining cost-effective observations of the global and coastal ocean so as to deliver state-of-the-art operational oceanography and environmental monitoring. The NOC engages and collaborates widely with space agencies and the space sector internationally, and its activities drive forward the development of sensors and satellite missions relevant to NERC marine science.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that between 1901 and 2010, global-average sea-level increased by 19 cm. By the year 2100 it is likely that global-average sea-level will rise by a further 20 to 80 cm, and possibly more, if there is further collapse of certain parts of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. This means that there is generally a greater risk of coastal flooding and a greater need to assess flood defences. The NOC develops computer models of tides and storm surges to deliver improved forecasting systems for coastal flooding and sea-level extreme events. Our science and scientists directly contribute to assessments such as that of the IPCC. We combine geodetic observations of sea-level (using tide gauges and satellite altimetry), ocean mass changes and vertical land movement, with theoretical and modelling expertise of solid Earth, ocean and climate dynamics. The Sea Level and Ocean Climate subgroup works closely with the National Tidal and Sea Level Facility and the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level:

The National Tidal and Sea Level Facility (NTSLF) is the UK centre of excellence for sea level monitoring, coastal flood forecasting and the analysis of sea level extremes. It is the focus for sea level research in the UK and for its interpretation into advice for policy makers, planners and coastal engineers.

Established in 1933, the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level (PSMSL) has been responsible for the collection, publication, analysis and interpretation of sea level data from the global network of tide gauges. It is based in Liverpool at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), which is a component of the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

PSMSL is closely linked to the Global Sea Level Observing System (GLOSS), an international programme conducted under the auspices of the Joint Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM) of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

Key to understanding the interaction between the ocean and atmosphere is the study of those processes driving air-sea exchange of heat, salt, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Surface Processes research involves the measurement and analysis of turbulence in the atmospheric and oceanic boundary layers in order to provide accurate parameterisations of air-sea exchange of momentum, heat, freshwater, CO2 and other climatically-active gases.

The NOC is developing long-term global datasets of ocean near-surface parameters and exchanges (turbulent and radiative) based on observations from platforms, ships and satellites. These datasets are used by other international researchers to understand the long-term variability of surface fluxes and they provide an important forcing term for global climate models. Concerned with time and space scales from micro-meteorological to global climate, we aim to design and improve global observational systems and monitoring programmes.

Shelf seas – the shallow seas closest to our continents – account for over 80% of fisheries productivity and are relied upon by society for transport, energy and leisure. Half of the world’s population lives within 60 km of the coast, which is at an ever increased risk of erosion due to climate change.

The NOC studies the processes and fundamental interactions operating on the continental shelf, from the coast up to and including the shelf break. Our work is the foundation for comprehensive models of the physics, chemistry and biology of shelf seas, which are used to predict the impacts of climate change and to help policy-makers meet directives on good environmental status. We combine observations and numerical models to improve our knowledge of sediment transport processes so that we can better predict estuarine ecosystems and the morphology of coastal zones over several decades. We also study the exchange of nutrients and carbon at the shelf break, and the potential impacts of marine renewable energy installations.


NOC projects associated with this science area.


    The ANDREX project seeks to assess the role of the Weddell gyre in driving the southern closure of the meridional overturning circulation, in ventilating the deep global ocean, and in sequestering carbon and nutrients in the global ocean abyss –  visit project website  

  •  RAPID

    The RAPID programme aims to observe and understand changes in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation which might lead to rapid climate change –  visit project website  

  •  Drake Passage repeat hydrography

    Annual repeat hydrographic measurements in Drake Passage enable us to monitor and understand the transport and variability of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and its water masses –  visit project website  


    The 26˚N RAPID monitoring array is designed to quantify the variability of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation visit project website  


    Led by NOC, UK-OSNAP is a partnership between NOC, SAMS, University of Oxford and University of Liverpool –  visit project website  

  •  BoBBLE

    The BoBBLE project is a joint UK-India collaboration investigating the role of the Bay of Bengal in South Asian monsoon variability. visit project website