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Ren-Chieh Lien

Senior Principal Oceanographer

Affiliate Professor, Oceanography





Research Interests

Turbulence, Internal waves, Vortical motions, Surface mixed layer and bottom boundary layer dynamics, Internal solitary waves, Small-scale vorticity, Inertial waves


Dr. Lien is a physical oceanographer specializing in internal waves, vortical motions, and turbulence mixing in the upper ocean and their effects on upper ocean heat, salinity, momentum, and energy budgets. His primary scientific research interests include: (1) upper ocean internal waves and turbulence, especially in tropical Pacific and Indian oceans, (2) strongly nonlinear internal solitary wave energetics and breaking mechanisms, (3) small-scale vortical motions, and (4) bottom boundary layer turbulence. He is especially interested in understanding the modulation of internal waves and turbulence mixing by large-scale processes, as well as the effects of small-scale processes and large-scale flows.

One of Dr. Lien most important findings is the strong modulation of turbulence mixing by large-scale equatorial processes, such as tropical instability waves and Kelvin waves, in the eastern equatorial Pacific. He is especially interested in small-scale, potential vorticity motions %u2014 the vortical mode, which operates on the same scale as internal waves %u2014 and their effects on turbulence mixing and stirring. Lien has led sea-going experiments in the Pacific and Indian oceans and the South China Sea, using a variety of instruments including microstructure profilers, Lagrangian floats, EM-APEX floats, and moorings. He also developed a real-time towed CTD chain system, designed to study small-scale water mass variability in the upper ocean at a vertical and horizontal resolution of O(1 m).

Lien mentors and supervises masters and doctoral students and postdocs. His research and experiments have been funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Department Affiliation

Ocean Physics


B.S. Marine Science, Chinese Culture University, 1978

M.S. Physical Oceanography, University of Hawaii, 1986

Ph.D. Physical Oceanography, University of Hawaii, 1990


Lateral Mixing

Small scale eddies and internal waves in the ocean mix water masses laterally, as well as vertically. This multi-investigator project aims to study the physics of this mixing by combining dye dispersion studies with detailed measurements of the velocity, temperature and salinity field during field experiments in 2011 and 2012.

1 Sep 2012


2000-present and while at APL-UW

Estimates of surface wind stress and drag coefficients in Typhoon Megi

Hsu, J.-Y., R.-C. Lien, E.A. D'asare, and T.B. Sanford, "Estimates of surface wind stress and drag coefficients in Typhoon Megi," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 47, 545-565, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-16-0069.1, 2017.

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1 Mar 2017

Estimates of drag coefficients beneath Typhoon Megi (2010) are calculated from roughly hourly velocity profiles of three EM-APEX floats, air launched ahead of the storm, and from air-deployed dropsondes measurements and microwave estimates of the 10-m wind field. The profiles are corrected to minimize contributions from tides and low-frequency motions and thus isolate the current induced by Typhoon Megi. Surface wind stress is computed from the linear momentum budget in the upper 150 m. Three-dimensional numerical simulations of the oceanic response to Typhoon Megi indicate that with small corrections, the linear momentum budget is accurate to 15% before the passage of the eye but cannot be applied reliably thereafter. Monte Carlo error estimates indicate that stress estimates can be made for wind speeds greater than 25 m s-1; the error decreases with greater wind speeds. Downwind and crosswind drag coefficients are computed from the computed stress and the mapped wind data. Downwind drag coefficients increase to 3.5 ± 0.7 x 10-3 at 31 m s-1, a value greater than most previous estimates, but decrease to 2.0 ± 0.4 x 10-3 for wind speeds > 45 m s-1, in agreement with previous estimates. The crosswind drag coefficient of 1.6 ± 0.5 x 10-3 at wind speeds 30–45 m s-1 implies that the wind stress is about 20° clockwise from the 10-m wind vector and thus not directly downwind, as is often assumed.

Autonomous microstructure EM-APEX floats

Lien, R.-C., T.B. Sanford, J.A. Carlson, and J.H. Dunlap, "Autonomous microstructure EM-APEX floats," Methods Oceanogr., 17, 282-295, doi:10.1016/j.mio.2016.09.003, 2016.

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1 Dec 2016


• The EM-APEXX float measures U, V, T, S, and turbulence.
• First deployment of synchronized autonomous vertical profilers in a swarm.
• Slow profiling speed captures entire turbulence temperature spectrum.
• Turbulent temperature variance dissipation rate and diffusivity are estimated.
• Provides observations to relate turbulence mixing to N, shear, and Ri.

Ocean feedback to pulses of the Madden–Julian Oscillation in the equatorial Indian Ocean

Moum, J.N., K. Pujiana, R.-C. Lien, and W.D. Smyth, "Ocean feedback to pulses of the Madden–Julian Oscillation in the equatorial Indian Ocean," Nat. Comm., 7, 13203, doi:10.1038/ncomms13203, 2016.

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19 Oct 2016

Dynamical understanding of the Madden–Julian Oscillation (MJO) has been elusive, and predictive capabilities therefore limited. New measurements of the ocean’s response to the intense surface winds and cooling by two successive MJO pulses, separated by several weeks, show persistent ocean currents and subsurface mixing after pulse passage, thereby reducing ocean heat energy available for later pulses by an amount significantly greater than via atmospheric surface cooling alone. This suggests that thermal mixing in the upper ocean from a particular pulse might affect the amplitude of the following pulse. Here we test this hypothesis by comparing 18 pulse pairs, each separated by <55 days, measured over a 33-year period. We find a significant tendency for weak (strong) pulses, associated with low (high) cooling rates, to be followed by stronger (weaker) pulses. We therefore propose that the ocean introduces a memory effect into the MJO, whereby each event is governed in part by the previous event.

More Publications

Acoustics Air-Sea Interaction & Remote Sensing Center for Environmental & Information Systems Center for Industrial & Medical Ultrasound Electronic & Photonic Systems Ocean Engineering Ocean Physics Polar Science Center