Nortek AWAC Sensors for Colombia Hurricane Modeling

Since Colombia’s Caribbean islands were devastated by hurricanes Eta and Iota within a two-week period back in November 2020, government-funded researchers have been using wave and current data measured by Nortek’s ocean sensors to improve hurricane prediction.

With a total of 14 hurricanes, 2020 was the most active Atlantic hurricane season ever. Experience of Eta and Iota prompted the authorities on the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina to call for help from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and the environmental institution CORALINA to develop tools to plan and prepare for future events, including computer modeling to better predict hurricane risk.

While such models are generally robust, their accuracy is improved by comparison with data measured from the field. This is particularly important as biophysical features such as coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses can influence sea conditions around islands.

The scientists gather real-world data on current and wave direction using two AWAC subsea sensors made by Nortek in Norway. These record the motion of the water using calculations based on the Doppler effect. The sensors emit sound waves, then measure the echoes that return after bouncing off particles suspended in the water. As waves travel horizontally, these move with the water in a circular, or orbital, motion. This provides insight into how the height and direction of waves varies according to weather conditions.

Having validated the model with the real-world data from Eta and Iota, the researchers can now confidently create “synthetic” hurricane scenarios to identify the areas of the islands that are most vulnerable to flooding. As a result, the authorities can take action to protect vulnerable communities, such as planting seagrass in strategic locations.

To learn more about the ocean research technology used here, watch this video on the work being done by CEMarin researchers in Colombia.

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