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

I am physical oceanographer -- I study the physical state of the ocean (currents, temperatures, salinities) how and it changes and why.

We are putting news from the group on the following webpage --


Recent publications automatically appear at the end of the page. You can find all my publications on google scholar:


Submitted manuscripts:

Forcen-Vazquez, A., Williams, M., Bowen, M., Carter, L., Bostock. H., 2018, The physical oceanography of the Campbell Plateau and New Zealand subantarctic, submitted to NZJMFR.



I am part of the Deep South National Science Challenge. We are measuring and simulating ocean heat content and transport:


We are also measuring changes in the outflow of deep water from the Ross Sea:


Recovery and redeployment of the Ross Sea Outflow moorings happened in January 2019! You can see it on our news page: http://oceanphysicsauckland.co.nz

The Ross Sea Outflow moorings will become part of the Antarctic Science Platform -- http://www.antarcticanz.govt.nz/science/antarctic-science-platform/


Some current research projects:

Dynamics of the upper ocean

The near surface ocean is where heat and gases are exchanged with the atmosphere and where marine phytoplankton live. Recent numerical simulations suggest motion at small scales (submesoscale, 1-10 km) determines much of the upper ocean dynamics. We are investigating these small scales in 1 km resolution thermal imagery (with Xavier Capet and Francesco d'Ovidio (LOCEAN, UPMC) and Joe LaCasce (U of Oslo)) .

Variability and trends of sea surface temperature in the NZ region

Large changes in temperature and sea level occured in throughout the SW Pacific after the 1997-98 El Nino/La Nina. Phil Sutton and I investigated these (as part of the New Zealand Climate Variability Programme). We found temperature in the eastern Tasman Sea warmed rapidly over the top 800m (Sutton et al., 2005) and that changes in sea level (accompanied by a large region of very warm SST) north of NZ was due to the anomalous winds and excitation of waves on the thermocline (Bowen et al., 2006).

We have recently published a study (Bowen et al., 2017) where we suggest some of the changes in upper ocean temperatures are due to the exchange of heat with the deeper ocean as Rossby and Kelvin waves propagate around the country. Nick Shears and I have also published the long time series of SST from the coastal stations of the Southwest Pacific showing the coherence of temperature changes and their correspondence with the wind stress curl (Shears and Bowen, 2017). Phil and I have recently updated the trends and variability from all the temperature measurements around the country (Sutton and Bowen, 2019).

New Zealand Ocean Boundary Currents

The large ocean currents off the NZ coast transport heat and nutrients into the region. Phil Sutton (NIWA) and I designed a series of experiments to measure these currents for the New Zealand Climate Variability Programme. Denise Fernandez has investigated variability in all the New Zealand boundary currents in her PhD studies (Fernandez et al., 2018).

A new estimate of the mean flow in the subtropical East Auckland Current off the northeast shelf and the Subantarctic Front to the south -- Bowen et al. (2014)

Trends in sea surface temperature, sea surface height and eddy kinetic energy where the subtropical and subantarctic boundary currents meet east of New Zealand -- Fernandez et al., (2014)

A first measure of the subtropical inflow eastward from the Tasman -- NZ's "hot tap" -- and the Antarctic Intermediate Water flowing westward beneath it -- Sutton and Bowen (2014)

Direct measurements of currents off the Northwest coast of New Zealand -- Sutton and Bowen (2011)

Mitchell Chandler has also investigated the variability of the current off the west coast of the South Island (Chandler et al., 2019).




Teaching | Current

Semester 1 2019: Marine 202 (Principles of Marine Science), Geog 749 (Climate and Society), Geog 351 (Coastal and Marine Studies), Marine 100G (The Oceans Around Us), Marine 701 (Current Issues in Marine Science), Geophysics 711 (Geophysical Fluid Dynamics) and Geophysics 713 (Turbulent Processes in Climate).

Semester 2 2019: I am on research and study leave this semester


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 the ocean and climate as an Earth Science major with these courses:

EarthSci 261 (Climate, Hydrology and Biogeography); Marine 202 (Principles of Marine Science); Geog 332 (Climate and Environment); Geog 334 (Environmental Change); Geog 351 (Coastal and Marine Studies);

A Geophysics degree is excellent preparation for later postgrad work with the following courses on climate:

Physics 213 (The Geophysical Environment); Geophysics 311 (Atmosphere, Ocean and Climate Physics);

Postgraduate supervision

Current PhD students:

Laura Cagigal Gil (Giovanni Coco supervisor) "On the use of Statistical Downscaling for the study of Coastal Hazards in the South Pacific"

Gaoyang Li (Giovanni Coco supervisor) 


Current MSc, Honours, and Summer Students:

Ryan Quinn, BSc Hons in Geography (with Evan Weller)

Jessie Colbert, BSc Hons in Geography (with Rochelle Constantine and Ben Stevenson)

Mike Chen, BSc Hons in Geography (with Giovanni Coco)


Student who have completed:


Ana Markic (with Mark Costello), PhD submitted in 2018, "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" 


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

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 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)

  • 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
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Philip Sutton
  • Chandler, M., Bowen, 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
  • 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, Philip Sutton
  • 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
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Philip Sutton
  • 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
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/44511
    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
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/44087
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Nick Shears, Philip Sutton
  • 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
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Philip Sutton

Contact details

Primary office location

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

Web links