NOAA is sending robots into the ocean to improve hurricane forecasts

Four robotic ocean gliders are now probing conditions off the coast of Puerto Rico for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These gliders – which can continue operations even under hurricane conditions – are the first set of several expected to sent out to sea this summer:

The proposed paths for unmanned ocean gliders to travel this summer (Image: NOAA)

The ocean gliders are collecting data for NOAA, which could improve hurricane forecasts in the future. The gliders will travel up to a half mile down into the ocean to record temperatures and salinity (salt content). This data will be sent back to NOAA scientists, where it can be used in future forecasts.

Temperature and salinity are both important factors to hurricane potential and growth. Warmer waters favor tropical development, while salinity affects the temperature of water itself. A warm layer of water with low salinity can also create a ‘cap’ that prevents cooler water deeper in the ocean from mixing with the warmer water near the surface. In this way, the warmer water is ‘undisturbed’ by the cooler water beneath it; this scenario also favors tropical development.

Using this data can enhance hurricane forecasts and supply records for future research. NOAA has been sending out ocean gliders since 2014, which will make this the 5th year that data has been collected.

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