Igor Kamenkovich

Researching the dynamics of the ocean circulation and its role in the Earth's climate

Igor headshotIgor Kamenkovich is a physical oceanographer whose interests are in the dynamics of the ocean circulation and its role in the Earth’s climate. In his studies, Igor is striving to combine comprehensive numerical simulations, observational data and idealized conceptual models. All Igor’s projects involve numerical modeling of the oceans using the Modular Ocean Model (MOM) that was developed at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab (GFDL).

One of the Igor’s current projects is focused on the role of the mesoscale eddies – motions on the scales of 20-50 km – in mid latitude ocean circulation. These eddies play an active role in distributing momentum, heat, salt and biochemical tracers, and there is mounting evidence for their importance in the oceans. However, modern climate models cannot resolve the mesoscale, and instead have to rely on various parameterization schemes, which often distort the important physics. One of the striking examples of the complex effects of eddies is their role in the formation of zonal jets, which are seen in observations and eddy-resolving models, but are not reproduced by the models that do not resolve mesoscale eddies. Studies of eddy dynamics will therefore help to improve our ability to model ocean circulation and more accurately predict response of the oceans to the changing climate of the Earth.

The second group of Igor’s studies is focused on the Southern Ocean – the ocean that encircles Antarctica. This is one of the least studied parts of the World Ocean despite the fact that the role of the Southern Ocean in the climate of the Earth is important and unique. What makes the Southern Ocean so special is its geographical position: It is the only ocean that encircles the Earth and does not have meridional boundaries. By connecting the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, the circulation in the Southern Ocean Velocities in the Atlantic figureplays a central role in the formation and circulation of several important water masses, which help to shape the global oceanic stratification. Igor’s studies are addressing the role the Southern Ocean plays in controlling circulation and stratification in the oceans in the adjacent oceans.

Both directions of Igor’s research stem from the studies that he did during his years as a student and a postdoctoral affiliate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During 1996-1998, Igor was working at the MIT Joint Program on Science and Policy of Global Change. In collaboration with his colleagues, Jochem Marotzke, Andrei Sokolov, and Peter H. Stone, Igor has developed a climate model of intermediate complexity for the studies of the response of the thermohaline circulation to increasing atmospheric CO2. The computational efficiency of the model allows an extensive and thorough study, through a large number of extended runs. The results from this climate model are used in the Coordinated Coupled Model Experiments (part of the CMIP's Working Group on Coupled Models; and in the EMIC (Earth system models of intermediate complexity) Intercomparison Projects.

Igor began his studies of the ocean circulation as a student in the MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography in 1992. His PhD thesis (advisor: J. Pedlosky) is on ability of large-scale ocean jets, such as the Gulf Stream or Kurosio, to support growing modes that are not strongly spatially trapped to the jet itself. Such modes are capable Schematics of the global thermohaline ocean dirculationof penetrating into the far field and of transferring energy away from the jet axis. This process could be in large part responsible for the eddy field generation in the regions distant from energetic ocean currents.

Before coming to the United States as a student, Igor was studying physics in the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology Igor grew up in Moscow, the political and cultural capital of Russia. As Russia itself, Moscow is changing fast these days, but manages to retain its identity and its beauty. When he is not working, Igor enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife Larissa and two wonderful sons, Peter (11 years) and Artemiy (13 months). He loves Russian literature, and likes to cook and play sports.

Igor is leaving JISAO/University of Washington in August 2007 and we are going to miss him. He has been a research faculty at the Department of Atmospheric Sciences for the past 9 years.He is leaving for the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS), University of Miami, taking a position of associate professor in the Division of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography. We wish him all the best in his new endeavor.