NOAA Utilizes Robots for Hurricane Forecasting
NOAA scientists are launching four underwater gliders from ships off the coast of Puerto Rico to bring back data they hope will improve the accuracy of hurricane forecast models.
The robotic, unmanned gliders are equipped with sensors to measure the salt content (salinity) and temperature as they move through the ocean at different depths. The gliders, which can operate in hurricane conditions, collect data during dives down to a half mile below the sea surface and transmit the data to satellites when they surface.
Water temperature and salinity provide important clues to how strong a hurricane can become. Warmer surface waters can lead to stronger hurricanes, and salt content can affect the temperature of the ocean surface.
Improving forecasts of hurricane intensity is vital. Coastal communities make decisions about whether to evacuate based in part on the predicted strength of an approaching hurricane. Data collected by gliders will help scientists figure out where models are getting hurricane forecasts right, and where the models could use a boost.
NOAA scientists have been deploying gliders to monitor ocean conditions each hurricane season since 2014. The agency has worked with partners including the U.S. Navy, Rutgers University, University of Miami, and University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez to launch the underwater vehicles in areas that frequently experience hurricanes.