Physical Oceanography

The Physical Oceanography Group studies the physics of the oceans, from our coasts to the large scale ocean circulation. This encompasses an enormous range of processes, from the scale of turbulence to those of our climate. The Physical Oceanography Group is a member of the Environmental Fluid Mechanics (EFM) Section, with our focus on geophysical fluid dynamics. Within this context the Oceanography group sits well placed to study processes at our coasts, as well as in the deep ocean. Our approach includes theoretical understanding, numerical simulations, and observations. We study the distribution of currents, temperature and salinity, and fine sediments. Our research is multi-disciplinary and here we interface with our colleagues in EFM studying turbulence, waves, numerical modelling, and sediment dynamics.

The aim of Physical Oceanography Group is to understand ocean systems, from estuaries to ocean basins, with a focus on understanding the impacts of climate change and anthropogenic effects on our coasts. We study processes ranging from turbulent eddies with space and time scales of cm’s and seconds, to internal gravity waves with wavelengths of m to km’s and periods of seconds to hours, to tides with wavelengths of thousands of km’s and dominant periods close to 12 and 24 hours. While on scales of 1-100 km’s and days to months we study coastal currents, fronts and horizontal eddies that vary on time scales of days to months and spatial scales of one to hundreds of kilometers. At the scales of says to decades and beyond we study the wind and thermodynamically driven ocean currents. There is a growing realisation that small scales and large interact, and impact one another. Due to the non-linearity of fluid systems advanced numerical models are an essential component of our research. Our research includes fundamental studies, applied research and engineering solutions.

Knowledge of the oceans is of vital importance to many science and engineering disciplines. From the civil engineering side this awareness has arisen with the need to tackle major engineering projects, such as Maasvlakte2. Understanding and forecasting the implications of climate change is important. A changing climate impacts design criteria, and has significant safety and financial consequences. There is a strong engineering demand by companies that can only be met by fundamental research. In-depth knowledge of the underlying oceanographic processes is an important part of environmental fluid mechanics required by engineers.

Areas of Research

The group has a strong background in coastal and mesoscale oceanography, and in understanding of fundamental ocean processes and climate.

Our areas of research include mixing, internal waves, estuarine and coastal processes, large scale dynamics and climate, numerical modelling, and observations.

Prof. Julie Pietrzak Chair of Physical Oceanography

Area of expertise: Coastal and Mesoscale Oceanography and numerical modelling

Dr. Caroline Katsman  Associate Professor

Area of expertise: Large- and mesoscale ocean circulation and climate


  • Sabine Rijnsburger
  • Zeinab Safar
  • Raul Flores Audibert (UW, PI Prof. Alex Horner Devine)
  • Steffie Ypma
  • Sotiria Georgiou
  • Carine van der Boog
  • Dr. Juan Manuel Sayol Espana