Scientists are looking below the ocean’s surface to better predict hurricanes and tropical storms.
Torpedo-shaped drones tearing through the Atlantic Ocean are helping to predict hurricanes, the Associated Press reports.
Hurricanes are characterized by intense winds rotating around a low-pressure core. Hurricane hunters traditionally fly right into the eye of the storm to conduct storm reconnaissance, collecting data that will help predict storm movement and intensity.
But data from the eye of the storm doesn’t tell the whole story. Below the ocean’s surface, water conditions also play a key role in driving hurricane intensity.
“Recent studies have shown a link between ocean surface temperatures and tropical storm intensity – warmer waters fuel more energetic storms,” the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains on its website. If the hurricane pushes cooler waters from the ocean’s depths up to the surface, on the other hand, it will weaken.
“One reason hurricanes are so hard to forecast is that intensity depends on conditions ahead of and below the storm," Glen Gawarkiewicz, an oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, Massachusetts, told AP.
With remotely controlled drones ready to plunge into the heart of the storm, scientists will now be able to collect key measurements on water temperature, density, and salinity — all of which may help to predict how a storm will play out.
The drones carry a variety of sensors and “can be programmed to patrol for weeks at a time, surfacing to transmit their data to shore while downloading new instructions at regular intervals, realizing a substantial cost savings compared to traditional surface ships,” Wood Hole writes on a website devoted to the instruments.
According to AP, the drones have already gathered data on Hurricane Hermine, which barrelled up the Atlantic coast last week. They note that it will still be some time before all of the data are analyzed, and the drones are still in the process of collecting post-storm information.
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