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CTD rosette Welcome to the web pages of the Department of Physics, Sea Ice and Technology at SAMS. This department comprises physical oceanographers, sea ice specialists and technologists. The basis of the group is our ability to make observations of the ocean and so the technology of observation underpins much of what we do: The aim of the technology development team is to make ocean observations more representative by moving away from ship-based measurements towards smart autonomous platforms in real-time communication with the scientist.

In the realm of the hydrosphere, we focus on flows over topography and the stirring and mixing of the ocean that results.  We use fjords as ocean process laboratories with the aim of developing the fundamental understanding of mixing processes within fjordic 'ocean laboratories'. We are then able to apply this understanding, and transfer our observational techniques, to the deep ocean.  Much of this work is developed in high resolution models of the key mixing processes.  We also interests in the oceanic exchanges that occur with and between the Atlantic and the Arctic.

In the realm of the cryosphere, we study the mechanisms by which sea ice can modify the ocean-atmosphere interactions, as well as its impact on the ecosystem and water structure. We endeavour to establish the nature and magnitude of the changes that are taking place, with special relevance to their influence on natural and anthropogenic climate change.

Dr Finlo Cottier
Head of Department


Physical oceanography

Great Race Eddies - SAMSThe Physics Group is the largest within the PSIT Department, currently comprising ten staff and four PhD students.

We have developed areas of research and expertise which combine observations of physical process, observations of change over interannual scales and capabilities for computer modelling.


  • Measurements of turbulence and mixing in fjords, coasts and the ocean using Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), free-falling profilers and automated profiling floats.
  • Observations of oceanic processes using autonomous gliders, mooring deployments and surveys from research ships.
  • Linking the coupling between physical and biological processes in the arctic under sea ice using multi-parameter moorings.


  • Numerical models of Scottish Coastal waters at varying levels of resolution to resolve exchange and mixing properties in strongly tidal waters.
  • Models of overflowing oceanic waters in the key constriction zones between ocean basins.
  • Simple fjord box models to interpret the changes in past climate observed in marine sediment cores retrieved from fjord basins.


Sea ice

Sea ice research

Sea ice research at SAMSSea ice covers 7% of the surface of our planet. It is one of the most important and variable components of the planetary surface and is the key to understanding many basic questions about the energy balance of the Earth. The role of the Sea Ice Group is to study the mechanisms by which physical processes in the polar seas affect the global climate and global climatic change, and the nature and magnitude of the changes that are taking place.

The sea ice group currently comprises


Technology Development Group

Dave Meldrum in Canadian ArcticThe Technology Development Group has a long history of developing, building and deploying innovative instrumentation in remote and difficult environments. The work of the group is often done in support of the science of other groups within SAMS and elsewhere. In addition the group also undertakes work for its own projects which are concerned with developing promising technologies for applications in marine science.

The group works within the context of Oceans 2025 (Theme 8) towards an optimal marine observing network. Specific work packages are focussing on sensor optimisation, smart in situ data processing, platforms and communications. The work complements other Oceans 2025 work, both at SAMS (notably with the physics and geochemistry groups) and at other NERC-supported institutes.

The group is also actively engaged in the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland which aims to increase collaboration in projects between other member institutions.

The Technology Development Group has a number of areas of particular expertise: A long-standing area of work has been the development of a variety of drifting buoys. A typical application is for tracking of sea-ice movements and high resolution tracking of coastal currents. These buoys have combined technologies such as GPS, satellite communications and advanced low power microprocessors in order to collect a wide range of environmental data sets from the oceans and the poles. The group is also becoming experienced in designing and building various platforms for sea-ice installations. This work includes novel sensing techniques and the mechanical design of robust and easily deployable buoys which can withstand severe conditions in sea-ice. Another area of considerable activity is sensor integration onto existing platforms such as autonomous vehicles and moored profilers.

Many of the designs which come out of the groups work are suitable for commercialisation. This has proven successful on a small scale and is an area which is being developed such that many of the group's products can be sold or out-sourced.

The facilities for technology development at SAMS are very good. The group benefits from modern computer-aided-design software and has well equipped laboratories. For polar installation testing the group has recently built a large cold room to simulate Arctic and Antarctic conditions. For sea trials both the rough Scottish seas and the sheltered lochs provide excellent testing grounds.

The Technology Development Group continues to be busy and lively and is enjoying considerable successes with the equipment it is producing. New avenues of activity are always being pursued and these presently include novel pollution sensors and glacial lake monitoring. The opportunities for applying the group's talents seem to be extensive and the challenges are both endless and tantalising.

The group currently comprises