Kathleen Donohue

  • Professor of Oceanography
  • Physical Oceanography
  • Phone: 401.874.6615
  • Email: kdonohue@uri.edu
  • Office Location: Rm 216 Watkins Laboratory

  • Accepting Students: Master's, Post Doc


Dr. Kathleen Donohue grew up on the New Jersey Shore but her interest in oceanography didn’t start until she was an undergrad at Brown University where she received her bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics.

“I was at Brown and was casting about trying to decide on a major. I started in engineering and was consistently taking a lot of math courses. At the same time I wanted a part-time job.” She landed one as a clerical assistant to a paleooceanographer. Another factor in her student life was a roommate who was taking a geology class and so she started taking some geology courses too.

Working for the paleooceanographer she started thinking that oceanographic pursuits would probably lead to a job and so she started taking some pertinent classes. It was not long before she could do more sophisticated work for her paleooceanographer boss other than filing and answering phones. She was on her path toward becoming a physical oceanographer.

She then entered GSO and in 1996 received her doctorate after working with Dr. Mark Wimbush, now professor emeritus.

She landed a postdoc at the University of Hawaii and then in 2000 returned to GSO as a marine research scientist for several years. She became a member of the GSO faculty thanks to the highly successful Advance program that was designed to give women scientists an easier entry into faculty slots by relieving them from teaching duties for a few years.

Her research has concentrated on some of the major ocean currents around the globe, especially in the Gulf of Mexico and the Drake Passage. The study of the so-called Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico is a multi-year project investigating how the dynamics of the current works, especially in the deepest regions.

Another project she is involved with is the Oleander Project. The Oleander is a container ship that weekly brings supplies to Bermuda from New Jersey. The ship is outfitted with instruments that collect data on the Continental Shelf current, the Gulf Stream and the Sargasso Sea.

Back on land, Donohue heads up the annual SURFO (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship in Oceanography) program that brings up to 14 undergraduates to GSO for 10 weeks. During that time, the students (most of them are between their junior and senior years) are teamed up with a faculty advisor or graduate student who has a project for them to work on. Each SURFO student has to complete an independent project, write a paper and give a presentation before the summer is over. Some of them have the opportunity to give a presentation at a national conference.

For Donohue, running the program is a lot of work although she is quick to credit her predecessors for structuring the program so well. The program gets a lot more applications from students than it can grant so there is a considerable amount of work in the selection process as well as matching the students up with an appropriate advisor.

“It’s a lot of work but it is really rewarding—in fact of all the educational things I do at GSO it is the most rewarding.” She adds that through the process of matching advisors and students in projects she gets out of her office and gets exposed to all the different research that is taking place on the Bay Campus.

In the future, Donohue hopes to get funding to study the currents in the South Atlantic, especially the area where the circumpolar current meets the South Atlantic’s western current. The confluence involves some large exchanges of heat on a variety of scales.

For relaxation, Donohue is learning to sail and is now taking intermediate training through a URI program. She also enjoys gardening at her Wakefield home.


I am a sea-going observational physical oceanographer whose research has focused on large-scale and meso-scale ocean circulation through the analysis of in situ and remotely sensed observations as well as numerical models

I study weather in the sea or you could say ocean storms or storms within the sea.

Most recent process-oriented experiments have been strong-jet regimes: Kuroshio Extension (KESS), Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current in Drake Passage.

Antarctic Circumpolar Current
The Southern Ocean is believed to be especially sensitive to climate change, responding to winds that have increased over the past thirty years, and warming significantly more than the global ocean over the past fifty years. Climate models with increased wind predicted increase current strength, increase the strength of global overturning circulation. While we know that the large transport of the Circumpolar Current is linked to the strong westerly winds we don’t understand what ‘brakes’ the ACC. cDrake observations resolve the seasonal and interannual variability of the total ACC transport, as well as its vertical and lateral structure. Our observations are helping us understand why the current is there, what forces it, and what controls its variability. cDrake.org

Gulf of Mexico/Loop Current Studies.
In addition to advancing the understanding of circulation in the Gulf of Mexico, there is a need for accurate ocean forecasting to aid in hurricane prediction, to guide oil-drilling operations, and to assess oil-spill risk. Interaction of Loop current/eddies with topography generates strong variable currents – currents not readily observable at the surface. Predictions of oil transport during Deepwater Horizon spill highlight lack of understanding of Loop Current Eddy formation. I’ve been working in the Gulf for about 10 years now, engaged in 4 field programs utilizing current meter moorings and pressure inverted echo sounders. w/R. Watts These have been funded by Minerals Management Service/Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. http://www.po.gso.uri.edu/dynamics/GOM/index.html

Oleander Line
The Oleander project began in 1992 as an effort to conduct high-resolution upper-ocean velocity measurements on a sustained multiyear basis. The Oleander project was established to track near surface heat-fluxes in the Gulf Stream region by taking continuous measurements over a long period of time. In the past 15 years of this project, upper-ocean velocity and near-surface temperatures have been sampled by an acoustic Doppler current profiler (ADCP) mounted in the hull of a container vessel (CMV Oleander) that operates weekly between New Jersey and Bermuda. These transects include measurements taken in four distinct and oceanographically important regions: the continental shelf, the Slope Sea, the Gulf Stream, and the northwestern Sargasso Sea. In addition to creating a long-term record of measurements, results from the Oleander project have been used by a variety of researchers and in a range of oceanographic fields. w/ Tom Rossby, funded by NSF. http://www.po.gso.uri.edu/rafos/research/ole/

Beginning 2009, I joined Robert Pockalny in the leadership of the GSO REU SURFO Program. Since 2010, David Smith has co-directed the program with me. This is a highly selective program that draws the best students from around the country. The program’s goal is to attract undergraduates into professional careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, expose them to Oceanography as a career option, and to pair student with graduate faculty. Typically 9-10 students join GSO each year and 1-2 students from each class ultimately join GSO as a graduate student. http://surfo.gso.uri.edu/~surfo/

I am part of an MPOWIR Mentor Group. This group consists of 6-7 junior women and 2 senior facilitators. The goal of the group is to provide peer and traditional mentoring through monthly conference calls.


Ph.D. Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, 1996

B.S. Applied Mathematics, Brown University 1988


OCG 200 Extreme Weather

OCG 530 Principles of Physical Oceanography

OCG 535 Climate

OCG 613 Waves

Selected Publications

K.A. Donohue, K. Tracey, D.R. Watts, M.P. Chidichimo, and T. Chereskin, 2016. Mean
Antarctic Circumpolar Current transport measured in Drake Passage. Geophys. Res.
Lett., 43, doi:10.1002/2016GL070319.

K. L. Tracey, K. A. Donohue, and D. R. Watts, 2016, Bottom temperature in Drake Passage. accepted, J. Phys. Oceanogr.

C.G. Piecuch, P.R. Thompson, and K.A. Donohue, 2016, A comparison of twentieth century
surface air pressure reconstructions over the global ocean, with applications
to mean se level investigation. accepted, J. Atmos. Oceanic Technol.

K. Rosburg, K.A. Donohue, and E. Chassignet, 2016, Three-dimensional model-observation comparison in the Loop Current Region. Dyn. Atmospheres and Oceans, 2016, doi.10.1016/j.dynatmoce.2016.05.001

D. R. Watts, K. L. Tracey, K. A. Donohue, and T. Chereskin, 2016, Estimates of eddy heat flux crossing the Antarctic Circumpolar Current from observations in Drake Passage. J. Phys. Oceanogr., accepted

A. Foppert, K.A. Donohue, and D.R. Watts, 2016, The Polar Front in Drake Passage: A composite-mean stream-coordinate view. J. Geophy. Res., 2016, doi:10.1175/JTECH-D-15-0249.1

K.A. Donohue, M.A. Kennelly, and A. Cutting, 2016, Sea surface height variability in Drake Passage. J. Atmos. Oceanic Technol., 2016, doi:10.1175/JTECH-D-15-0249.1

F. Schloesser, P. Cornillon, K.A. Donohue, B. Boussidi, and E. Iskin, 2016, Evaluation of thermosalinograph and VIIRS data for the characterization of near-surface temperature elds. J. Atmos. Oceanic Technol., 2016, doi:10.1175/JTECH-D-15-0180.1

K.A. Donohue, D.R. Watts, P. Hamilton, R. Leben, and M. Kennelly, 2016, Loop Current Eddy Formation and Baroclinic Instability. Dyn. Atmospheres and Oceans, 2016, doi:10.1016/j.dynatmoce.2016.01.004

K.A. Donohue, D.R. Watts, P. Hamilton, R. Leben, M. Kennelly, and A. Lugo-Fernandez, 2015, Gulf of Mexico Loop Current path variability. Dyn. Atmospheres and Oceans, doi:10.1016/j.dynatmoce.2015.12.003

M.P. Chidichimo, K.A. Donohue, D.R. Watts, and K. L. Tracey, 2014, Baroclinic transport time series of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current measured in Drake Passage. J. Phys. Oceanogr., 44:1829{1853, 2014, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-13-071.1

T. Rossby, C.N. Flagg, K. Donohue, A. Sanchez-Franks, and J. Lillibridge, 2015, On the long-term stability of Gulf Stream transport based on 20 years of direct measurements. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41(1):114{120, 2014, doi: 10.1002/2013GL058636

Worst, J., K.A. Donohue, and T. Rossby, 2014, A comparison of vessel-mounted acoustic Doppler current profiler and satellite altimeter estimates of sea surface height and transports between New Jersey and Bermuda along the CMW Oleander route. J. Atmos. Oceanic Technol., doi:10.1175/JTECH-D-13-00122.1

Bishop, S., D.R. Watts, K.A. Donohue, 2013, Divergent eddy heat fluxes in the Kuroshio Extension at 144–148 Part 1: Mean structure. J. Phys. Oceanogr., doi:10.1175/JPO-D-12-0221.1

Watts, D.R., M. A. Kennelly, K. A. Donohue , K. L. Tracey, T. K. Chereskin, R. Weller, I. Victoria, 2013, Four current meter models compared in strong currents in Drake Passage. J. Atmos. Oceanic Technol., doi:10.1175/JTECH-D-13-00032.1

Beal, L. and K.A. Donohue, 2013, The Great Whirl: Observations of its seasonal development and inter annual variability, J. Geophys. Res., 118(1), 1-13

Tracey, K. L., D. R. Watts, K. A. Donohue, and H. Ichikawa, 2012, Propagation of Kuroshio Extension meanders between 143E and 149E. J. Phys. Oceanogr., 42:581–601, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-11-0138.1.

Na, H., J.-H. Park, D. R. Watts, K. Donohue, and H. J. Lee, 2012, Near 13-day barotropic ocean response to the atmospheric forcing in the North Pacific. J. Geophys. Res., doi:10.1029/2012JC008211.

Park, J.-H., D. R. Watts, K. A. Donohue, and K. L. Tracey, 2012, Comparisons of sea surface height variability observed by pressure-recording inverted echo sounders and satellite altimetry in the Kuroshio Extension. J. Oceanogr., 68:401–416, doi:10.1007/s10872-012-0108-x.

Hamilton, P., K. A. Donohue, R. R. Leben, A. Lugo-Fernández, and R. E. Green, 2011, Loop Current observations during spring and summer of 2010: Description and historical perspective, in Monitoring and Modeling the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: A Record-Breaking Enterprise, Geophys. Monogr. Ser.,