Dr Melissa Marie Bowen

PhD (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution); MSc (Stanford); BSc (Stanford)

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Senior Lecturer

Research | Current

The physics of the ocean is central to the climate and life on our planet. I study how ocean temperatures, salinities and currents change and what causes those changes. Most of my research uses observations of the ocean, both from measurements in the water and from satellite, to understand ocean physics over a wide range of scales -- from estuaries to the Southern Ocean.

You can find all my publications on google scholar:



Chen, Z., Bowen, M., Li, G., Coco, G., Hall, B., "Retention and dispersion of buoyant pollutants in a well-mixed estuary from drifter observations" to Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Recently published papers:

Carter, L., Bostock-Lyman, H., Bowen, M., (2022) Water masses, circulation and change in the modern Southern Ocean, in Antarctic Climate Evolution, pg. 165-197, Elsevier, Amsterdam.

Bowen, M., Fernandez, D., Forcen-Vazquez, A., Gordon, A., Huber, B., Castagno, P., Falco, P. (2021). The role of tides in bottom water export from the western Ross Sea, Scientific Reports, 10.1038/s41598-021-81793-5, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-81793-5

Forcen-Vazquez, A., Williams, M., Bowen, M., Carter, L., Bostock. H., (2021). Frontal dynamics and water mass variability on the Campbell Plateau, N. Z. J. Marine and Freshwater Res., 10.1080/00288330.2021.1875490.

Chen, Z. and Bowen, M. (2020). Observations of salinity, flushing time and dispersion in the Waitemata Estuary, N. Z. J. Marine and Freshwater Res., 10.1080/00288330.2020.1848886.

I contribute to several national science programmes:

Aoteoroa Impacts and Mitigation of Microplastics

With Zheng Chen, Nadia Dikereva, Gaoyang Li, Giovanni Coco and Kevin Simon, we are investigating dispersal in the Waitemata Estuary to understand the fate of material as it makes it way from rivers to the ocean through the complex flows in estuaries.


Antarctic Science Platform

We are investigating what controls the exchange of water, heat and nutrients across the Ross Sea slope. In 2021, a mooring array was deployed across the Drygalski Trough to measure the inflow of warm Circumpolar Deep Water and outflow of colder bottom water. We are also continuing to monitor the outflow of bottom water from the region off Cape Adare.


Deep South National Science Challenge

During the first five year phase of the challenge, we investigated ocean heat content around New Zealand to improve climate simulations. I also lead a Deep South funded project measuring the outflow of bottom water from the Ross Sea at Cape Adare and contributed to the Tasman Sea box heat content project lead by Phil Sutton.

Currently, Chao Han and I are part of a project on upper ocean heat content led by Joe O'Callaghan at NIWA.


Teaching | Current

Semester 1 2022: Marine 202 (Principles of Marine Science), Geog 101 (Earth Surface Processes and Landforms), Geog/EarthSci 261 (Climate and Society), Geophysics 711 (Geophysical Fluid Dynamics).

Semester 2 2022: Geog 749 (Applied Climate Science), Geog 101 (Earth Surface Processes and Landforms)


Students sometimes ask “How can I become an oceanographer?” There is no straight-forward answer (many of us arrived in oceanography after doing degrees in physics, maths or engineering), but there are many options!

You can study climate in the Environmental Physics degree.

You can also study ocean and climate as an Earth Science or Geography major with these courses:

EarthSci 261 (Climate, Hydrology and Biogeography); Marine 202 (Principles of Marine Science); Geog 334 (Environmental Change); Geog 351 (Coastal and Marine Studies);


Postgraduate supervision

Current PhD students:

Nadia Dikerova (Keven Simon supervisor and with Giovanni Coco) "Spatial and temporal dynamics of microplastic transport in freshwater systems"

Gaoyang Li (Giovanni Coco supervisor) "Dispersion and Morphodynamics in Estuarine and Nearshore Waters"

Mike Chen (with Giovanni Coco)  "Dispersion in the Waitemata Estuary"

Kayo Takahashi  (with Matt Mazloff and Phil Sutton) "Remote forcing of the Southern Hemisphere subtropical gyres"

Yingpu Xiahou (Craig Stevens supervisor) "Circulation and ice-ocean interaction in a large ice shelf ocean cavity"

Ryan Quinn (with Tra Dinh) "Upper ocean changes and their role in ocean-atmosphere heat exchange"


Current MSc, Honours, and Summer Students:

Chao Han, MSc Candidate, (with Phil Sutton and Joe O'Callaghan) "Upper ocean heat changes due to storms"

Bethany Waller, MSc Candidate, (with David Noone) "Atmospheric rivers in the South Pacific"

Cody Lewis, BScHons Candidate, "Changes in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current inflow to the New Zealand region over the satellite altimeter record"


Student who have completed:


Ana Markic (with Mark Costello), PhD 2019, "Marine plastic pollution in the South Pacific region: distribution and impacts on marine life"

Chhaya Chaudhary (Mark Costello supervisor), PhD 2017, "Latitudinal gradients in marine species richness"

Denise Fernandez (with Phil Sutton), PhD 2016, "Variability, coherence and forcing mechanisms in the New Zealand ocean boundary currents"

Ning Li (Gilles Bellon supervisor), PhD 2016, "On the climatology, variability and trends of moisture advection over the Southern Hemisphere and its association with modes of atmospheric circulations and large scale ocean‐atmosphere interactions"

Aitana Forcen Vazquez, PhD 2015,  (VUW with Mike Williams and Lionel Carter), "Oceanography of the New Zealand Subantarctic region" 


Ryan Quinn, MSc Geography, 2021, "Marine Heat Waves in the New Zealand region" (with Evan Weller)

Kayo Takahashi, MSc Geophysics, 2019,  "The New Zealand western boundary currents: momentum, vorticity and links to the winds."

Abdullah Madawi, MSc Geophysics, 2019, "Pathways of Antarctic Bottom Water" (with Erik Behrens and Phil Sutton)

Prajakata Niphadkhar, MSc Earth Science, 2019  "Sea Level Variability around the New Zealand coast" (with Xuebin Zhang)

Maija Kaipio, MSc, 2017, "Decadal variability of the Southern Hemisphere subtropical gyres"

Jordan Markham, MSc 2014, (with Phil Sutton and Nick Shears) "What controls sea surface temperature variation at Leigh, New Zealand?"

Penelope Lindsay, MSc 2014, (with Kathy Campbell and Lorna Strachan), "Tidal asymmetry and sediment transport at Mangawhai Estuary, Northland"

Cowan Nokes, MSc 2014, (with Lorna Strachan and Helen Bostock), "Quaternary Sediment Distribution and Transport Pathways over the North Canterbury Shelf"

Denise Fernandez, MSc 2012 (VUW with Lionel Carter) Thesis: "Do winds control the confluence of subtropical and subantarctic surface waters east of New Zealand?"

BSc Honours

Ryan Quinn, Honours 2019 (with Evan Weller) "SAM and Southern Hemisphere Climate"

Jessie Colbert, Honours 2019, "Sea surface temperature and cetacean distribution in the Hauraki Gulf" (with Rochelle Constantine and Ben Stevenson)

Mike Chen, Honours 2019, "The spring-neap salinity distribution in the Waitemata Estuary"

Mitchell Chandler, Honours 2018, "Trends and variability in the Fiordland Current" (with Rob Smith and Denise Fernandez)

Kayo Takahashi, Honours 2017, "What controls the flow of the ACC along the Campbell Plateau?"

Abdullah Madawi, Honours 2017, "Energy propagation across the South Pacific"

Prajakta Niphadkar, Honours 2016, "Sea level variability around New Zealand"

Ben Nistor, Honours 2016 (with Roger Davies), "Albedo variability of maritime boundary layer clouds over the Southern Ocean"

Maija Kaipio, Honours 2015, "Changes in Circumpolar Deep Water off East Antarctica"


Summer Projects

Esther Ladet, visiting physics intern, 2019, "Variability of the East Australian Current"

Laura Sobral Verona, Summer 2014/2015 Project: "Ocean temperature change off East Antarctica"

Corinne Marti, 2013 Summer Student Fellow, Project: "A pilot study of spring-neap variability of salinity and sediment in the Waitemata Estuary"

James Oram, Volunteer Summer Student, "Physical data from elephant seals off East Antarctica"

Areas of expertise

Physical oceanography; Southwest Pacific Ocean circulation; Southwest Pacific boundary currents; Satellite oceanography; Estuarine physics

Committees/Professional groups/Services

Director, Joint Graduate School of Coastal and Marine Science (between the University of Auckland and NIWA)

Member of the MBIE College of Assessors

Member of the South Pacific Ocean and Circulation Experiment (SPICE) 

Associate Editor, Journal of Southern Hemisphere Earth Systems Science

2016 Faculty of Science Teaching Commendation

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Sutton, P. J. H., & Bowen, M. (2019). Ocean temperature change around New Zealand over the last 36 years. NEW ZEALAND JOURNAL OF MARINE AND FRESHWATER RESEARCH, 53 (3), 305-326. 10.1080/00288330.2018.1562945
  • O’Callaghan J, Stevens, C., Roughan, M., Cornelisen, C., Sutton, P., Garrett, S., ... Suanda, S. H. (2019). Developing an Integrated Ocean Observing System for New Zealand. Frontiers in Marine Science, 610.3389/fmars.2019.00143
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Craig Stevens
  • Chandler, M., Bowen, M. M., & Smith, R. O. (2019). The Fiordland Current, southwest New Zealand: mean, variability, and trends. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research10.1080/00288330.2019.1629467
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/48493
  • Markic, A., Niemand, C., Bridson, J. H., Mazouni-Gaertner, N., Gaertner, J.-C., Eriksen, M., & Bowen, M. (2018). Double trouble in the South Pacific subtropical gyre: Increased plastic ingestion by fish in the oceanic accumulation zone. Marine pollution bulletin, 136, 547-564. 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2018.09.031
  • Fernandez, D., Bowen, M., & Sutton, P. (2018). Variability, coherence and forcing mechanisms in the New Zealand ocean boundary currents. Progress in Oceanography, 165, 168-188. 10.1016/j.pocean.2018.06.002
  • Shears, N. T., & Bowen, M. M. (2017). Half a century of coastal temperature records reveal complex warming trends in western boundary currents. Scientific Reports, 710.1038/s41598-017-14944-2
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Nick Shears
  • Bowen, M., Markham, J., Sutton, P., Zhang, X., Wu, Q., Shears, N. T., & Fernandez, D. (2017). Interannual variability of sea surface temperature in the southwest Pacific and the role of ocean dynamics. Journal of Climate, 30 (18), 7481-7492. 10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0852.1
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Nick Shears
  • Fernandez, D., Sutton, P., & Bowen, M. (2017). Variability of the subtropical mode water in the Southwest Pacific. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 122 (9), 7163-7180. 10.1002/2017JC013011

Contact details

Primary office location

SCIENCE CENTRE 301 - Bldg 301
Level 5, Room 529B
New Zealand

Web links