Professor Ferrari's Group is interested in the dynamics of the ocean, its interactions with present and past climates, and its coupling to biogeochemistry.
The ocean contributes to regulating the Earth's climate through its ability to transport heat from the equator to the poles. Our group studies the role of winds in driving this heat transport, an important question for climate and climate change [read here]. We also study the role of tropical cyclones (hurricanes) in driving ocean heat transport [read here]. This research has been recently highlited in a recent MIT News artcile [read here].
The ocean circulation is dominated by geostrophic eddies, i.e. cyclones and anticyclones with radii of 10-100 kilometers. These eddies are the ocean equivalent of the storms we experience in the atmosphere as weather. Eddies play an important role in the transport of heat, carbon and other climatically important tracers across the oceans. Our group is very active in this research area and we develop theories for the physics of ocean eddies, their role in climate, and their representation in numerical models used for climate studies [read more]. We are also involved in the DIMES observational campaign aimed at measuring eddy mixing in the Southern Ocean, and the SWOT altimetry mission that will provide global maps of the surface eddy field at unprecedented resolution.
The ocean circulation is the result of a balance between wind forcing and air-sea fluxes at large scales and dissipation at small scales. A full theory of the circulation must therefore include a discussion of the processes that take the energy from the forcing to the dissipation scales, also known as the turbulent cascade. Our group is trying to develop such a theory with a combination of theory, large scale ocean models and observations. We find that the turbulent cascade plays an important role in setting the response of the ocean circulation to changes in Earth's climate [read here].
The annual cycle of phytoplankton growth in many parts of the ocean is dominated by a rapid, intense population explosion called the spring bloom. The increase in the phytoplankton population associated with the spring bloom can account for up to a third of the net annual production and the resulting biomass sets the stage for the ecological competition later in the season. Our group studies what physical processes set the stage for the development of these blooms.
The ocean’s role in regulating atmospheric carbon dioxide on glacial-interglacial timescales remains a primary unresolved issue in paleoclimatology. We are making progress on the problem using a combination of reconstructions of past climates [read here], theories of the ocean circulation in different climates, and theories of the ocean biogechemical cycles.