NOAA and Saildrone launch drones to track hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico
In partnership with NOAA, Saildrone is once again launching a fleet of ocean drones to collect critical hurricane data to make coastal communities safer, including fishermen.
One of the biggest challenges in forecasting hurricanes is predicting rapid intensification, when the hurricane’s wind speed increases by at least 35 mph over a 24-hour period. To fully understand how storms intensify, scientists collect data on the exchange of energy between the ocean and the atmosphere in the form of heat and momentum. However, data collection in this hazardous environment is best accomplished by unmanned systems like the Saildrone.
Saildrones are equipped with a special “hurricane wing”, which resembles a hard sail, to withstand the extreme wind conditions encountered during storms, as they collect data from the ocean and atmosphere near the surface in real time. The data is used to improve understanding and prediction of tropical cyclone intensity changes and advance our knowledge of the ocean-atmosphere interactions that fuel them.
Last summer, Saildrone and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sent five unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) “storm chasing” from the coast of Jacksonville, Florida and the US Virgin Islands to monitor the ocean Atlantic and Caribbean Sea, to improve hurricane forecasting.
One of them, the Saildrone Explorer SD 1045, made it through the eye of Category 4 Hurricane Sam. Battling massive waves and winds of over 100 mph, the vehicle not only survived intact, but returned the first-ever live video footage from inside the storm’s eye, marking a new era of hurricane watching.
A range of unmanned marine and aerial tools
Now, Saildrone has launched its second annual Hurricane mission, partnering with NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research to send seven Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) to brave the treacherous hurricane season, gathering more information on how large and destructive hurricanes develop and intensify in the Atlantic. Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. For the first year, two saildrones will track hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.
“This season, NOAA will work with many partners to gather ocean and atmospheric observations using a suite of platforms to monitor conditions that play a role in changes in hurricane intensity,” said John Cortinas, director of NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML). .
“Rapidly intensifying storms can cause widespread damage and loss of life and real-time observing systems are essential to better understand the atmospheric and oceanic processes that lead to the formation and intensification of these hurricanes. .”
As NOAA predicts an above-average 2022 hurricane season with up to 21 named storms and three to six major hurricanes, a better understanding of hurricanes is essential and is the reason the organization chose the Saildrone as part of a range of marine hurricanes. and unmanned aerial tools used to improve forecasting models.
This year, three of the saildrones will work with underwater gliders to obtain nearly co-located measurements of the upper ocean and the air-sea interface. Data from sailing drones and other unmanned systems will help forecasters better understand the forces driving hurricanes to warn communities earlier.
First coordinated air-sea and atmospheric measurements
NOAA and partner scientists will deploy underwater gliders equipped with sensors that measure temperature and salinity up to half a mile below the ocean surface. These gliders provide high-volume, high-resolution data in areas where hurricanes move frequently.
Due to the strong interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere during the passage of a hurricane, better representation of the ocean in weather models has led to more accurate intensity forecasts.
NOAA says that “as opportunities arise, Saildrones will also coordinate with the small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS), the Altius-600. Altius-600 drones will be deployed into hurricanes for the first time from NOAA’s Hurricane Hunter aircraft to sample the atmosphere several hundred feet above the ocean surface.
The goal is to collect the first coordinated air-sea and atmospheric measurements in a hurricane from unmanned ocean and aerial drones. The coordination of these instruments simultaneously sampling the ocean and atmosphere in close proximity to each other in real time will provide high resolution data from all parts of the hurricane environment to improve knowledge of the situation of forecasters, which will improve forecasts.
“We are excited to expand this effort to collect vital data in both the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. We opened our office in Florida earlier this year to support exactly this type of mission, as well as our goal of mapping the entire seabed around Florida,” said Saildrone CEO Richard Jenkins. “Combining in situ ocean data with a better understanding of the ocean floor, will help us predict both storm intensity and storm surge, keeping our coastal communities safer from these destructive events. .”