Lewis M. Rothstein

  • Professor of Oceanography
  • Physical Oceanography
  • Phone: 401.874.6517
  • Email: lrothstein@uri.edu
  • Office Location: 314 Watkins


As a young student, Dr. Lewis M. Rothstein was fascinated by fluid dynamics and today he still enjoys research studying what he calls the largest fluid of them all—the ocean.

Rothstein started out as a mechanical engineering undergraduate at the University of Bridgeport and upon graduation worked for a year at Electric Boat in Groton, CT, builder of nuclear-powered submarines.

“But that was fluids in pipes. I wanted to study the largest fluid on the planet” and so he entered the ocean engineering program at the University of Massachusetts.

“It was the physics that got me,” recalls Rothstein and he wanted to continue, “hedging my bets” he says, by applying to GSO to pursue a doctorate in ocean engineering and to the University of Hawaii for the a doctorate in oceanography. He was declined at GSO and so he went to Hawaii.

While in Hawaii his mentor was immersed in the then-new phenomenon called El Nino. That research has profound effects on weather patterns now, especially in the era of climate change. “Observing the ocean on a large scale supported me for five years,” he says.

After Hawaii, Rothstein did some post doc work at the University of Washington, landing soft money for his research. He garnered enough grants that when he applied to GSO he was accepted this time as a faculty member.

“It’s interesting that I came back here—like it or not, here I am.”

Up until this point, he notes, NSF funding was largely focused on pure research with little recognition of the importance of societal impacts. The El Nino research helped change all that as the public became aware that their very own weather patterns are determined by a phenomenon far out in the Pacific.

Gradually NSF funding required researchers to pay more attention to society and community education.

And then something unusual happened to Rothstein that developed another passion in his career.

He was invited to give a talk on hurricanes along with Gary Ley, a popular TV meteorologist, at the Naval War College in Newport. The audience was huge and Ley, a colorful communicator had it laughing and applauding with jokes and anecdotes. The applause died down, Ley pointed to Rothstein and said “Here is the real star of tonight’s show.” Rothstein says he felt like sinking down into his chair, wondering to himself “Are you kidding me?”

“I think I did a reasonably good job,” says Rothstein referring to his part of the program, “but it was then that I started to realize there is a lot more to communicating science than just talking about science. You have to be really careful about what you say and how you say it.”

The framework of presentation of science is important, he says—how people report things, report the science, how they cover it and especially “what their knowledge of science should be as they do those jobs.”

At about that time GSO was given the gift of the Metcalf Institute of Marine and Environmental Reporting via a big grant from the Providence Journal Company. GSO formed a faculty committee to help steer the new creation and Rothstein was on that committee. The mission of Metcalf is to help journalists communicate science effectively and today it runs a variety of programs nationally and locally toward that end.

Rothstein was so engrossed in the concept that when he was asked to be science co-director to the Metcalf advisory board he jumped at the chance and stayed for eight years.

“It was a struggle at times but we knew we were doing the right thing. It was a wonderful idea and I am very proud to have been a part of it.”

Another challenge was the makeup of the GSO population—in the late 1990s and early 2000s GSO started getting a considerable number of female graduate students and yet the faculty was mostly all male. He decided that he would try to do his part to help the situation down the line–the next five PhD candidates he took under his wing were women.

Rothstein has plenty of things to do on his plate. Climate change and its impact on the coastal zones will keep him and colleagues busy and he is encouraged by the state’s efforts to engage all of its agencies and educational institutions in something called the Ocean State Climate Observatory.

It is important, he says, that all constituencies get involved—scientists, social scientists, economists and political scientists. “Our behavior is driving the climate and so we better involve the social scientists on how we can motivate people to behave differently as a function of accomplishing a goal of saving our environment from what I think will be a disastrous climate change.”

Rothstein is critical of the public’s denial of science in this country—not just climate issues—but science in general. “You cannot get them to acknowledge there is even an issue, much less try to understand how to behave differently.

“It’s a nightmare for all of us. This is an issue that Metcalf is trying to address—get the story out—that science is not a ‘he said’—‘she said’ but is a factually based conveyer.”


Climate change, Climate change and ocean circulation, Numerical modeling of mixing and circulation, Ocean circulation, Ocean current measurements, Ocean dynamics, Ocean-atmosphere dynamic systems, Oceanic fronts, Satellite imagery

Dr. Rothstein’s current research includes: impacts of climate change and variability on gyre scale and coastal circulations; mid-to-outer shelf coastal physical processes; submesoscale processes associated with open ocean frontal structures; subsurface heat fluxes associated with tropical cyclones and its impact on carbon cycling; and coupled biogeochemical/ecological/physical modeling of coastal processes.
He teaches two graduate courses in Geophysical Fluid Dynamics (OCG 610 and 611) and co-teaches one undergraduate course in general oceanography (for upper level ocean engineering and marine biology students).

He has served as the Science Director of the Metcalf Institute (http://www.metcalfinstitute.org/) for 8 years. The Institute’s mission is to promote clear and accurate reporting of scientific news and environmental issues; to strengthen understanding and working relationships between members of the scientific community and members of the news media; and to provide opportunities for beginning journalists to learn, on both a formal and an informal level, how to improve their skills in marine and environmental reporting.


Ph.D. Physical Oceanography, University of Hawaii, 1983

M.S. Physical Oceanography, University of Hawaii, 1979

M.S. Ocean Engineering, University of Massachusetts, Amhearst, 1975

B.S. Mechanical Engineering, University of Bridgeport, 1973

Teaches two graduate courses in Geophysical Fluid Dynamics (OCG 610 and 611) and co-teaches one undergraduate course in general oceanography (for upper level ocean engineering and marine biology students).

Selected Publications

Selected, last 10 years:

Luo, Y., L. M. Rothstein, Q. Liu, and S. Zhang, 2013: Climatic variability of the circulation in the Rhode Island Sound: A modeling study. J. Geophys. Res., 118, 1–20.

Luo, Y. and L. M. Rothstein, 2011: Response of the Pacific Ocean circulation to climate change. Atmosphere–Ocean, 39 (3), 235-244.

Luo, Y., Q. Liu, and L. M. Rothstein, 2011: Increase of South Pacific eastern subtropical mode water under global warming, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L01601, doi:10.1029/2010GL045878.

Davis, X.J, L. Rothstein, W. Dewar and D. Menemenlis, 2011. Numerical Investigations of Seasonal and Interannual Variability of North Pacific Subtropical Mode Water and Its Implications for Pacific Climate Variability. J. Climate, 24(11), 2648-2665.

Rodrigues, R.R., M. Wimbush, D. R. Watts, L. M. Rothstein, and M. Ollitrault, 2010: South Atlantic mass transports obtained from subsurface float and hydrographic data. J. Mar. Res., 68(6) 819-850.

Buckingham, C., T. Marchok, I. Ginis, L. Rothstein and D. Rowe, 2010. Short and Medium-Range Prediction of Tropical and Extratropical Cyclone Tracks Within the NCEP Global Ensemble Forecasting System. Wea. Forecasting, 25, 1736–1754.

Luo, Y., Q. Liu, and L. M. Rothstein, 2009. Simulated response of North Pacific Mode Waters to global warming. Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10/1029/2009GL040906.

Luo, Y., L. M. Rothstein, and R.-H. Zhang, 2009: Response of Pacific subtropical-tropical thermocline water pathways and transports to global warming. Geophys. Res. Lett., 36.

Luo, Y., and L. M. Rothstein, 2008: Water pathways in the subtropical and subpolar North Pacific from a high-resolution ocean GCM. Pacific Oceanography, 4, 6-26.

Rodrigues, R.R., L.M. Rothstein and M. Wimbush, 2007. Seasonal variability of the South Equatorial Current bifurcation in the Atlantic Ocean: A numerical study. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 37, 16-30.

Frolov, S. A. and L. M. Rothstein, 2006: Feature modeling approach to simulating Loop Current Frontal Eddies. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 70 533-540.

Luo, Y., M. D. Prater, E.G. Durbin, and L. M. Rothstein, 2006: Changes in the northwest Atlantic circulation for the 1992-95 high NAO period from a numerical model, Continental Shelf Research, 26, 1617-1635

Rothstein, L.M. and 20 authors, 2006. Modeling Ocean Ecosystems. Oceanography 19 (1), 22-51.

Luo, Y., L. M. Rothstein, R.-H Zhang, and A. J. Busalacchi, 2005: On the connection between South Pacific spiciness anomalies and decadal equatorial variability in an Ocean GCM, J. Geophys. Res., 110. doi:10.1029/2004JC002655

Doney, S.C., M.R. Abbott, J.J. Cullen, D.M. Karl and L.M. Rothstein, 2004. From genes to ecosystems: The ocean’s new frontier. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment , 2(9): 457-466.

Frolov, S. A., G. G. Sutyrin, G. D. Rowe, and L. M. Rothstein, 2004: Loop Current Eddy Interaction with the Western Boundary in the Gulf of Mexico. J. Phys. Oceanogr., 34, 2223–2237.

Luo, Y., H.-M. Zhang, M.D. Prater, and L.M. Rothstein, 2003. Warm water pathways, transports and transformations in the northwestern North Atlantic and their modification by cold air outbreaks, J.Geophys. Res., 108(C4), 3129.

Sutyrin, G.G., S. Frolov, G.D. Rowe, L.M. Rothstein and I. Ginis, 2003. Baroclinic-Eddy Interactions with Continental Slopes and Shelves, J. Phys. Oceanogr.,33, 283-291.