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Underwater ‘Gliders’ Help Improve Hurricane Forecasts



September 19, 2013
IOOS National Underwater Glider Network Map

U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System's (IOOS®) fleet of underwater gliders are tracked using the National Underwater Glider Network Map. The gliders collect data on ocean conditions to help improve scientists’ understanding of hurricanes and pave the way for future improvements in hurricane intensity forecasts.

A fleet of underwater robots is descending into Atlantic coastal waters from Nova Scotia to Georgia to collect data that may help improve storm intensity forecasts for future hurricane seasons. Several regions of the NOAA-led U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) have partnered to deploy approximately 15 of the autonomous underwater vehicles, also called gliders, for up to eight weeks during the peak fall Atlantic storm season.

The gliders will collect data on ocean conditions to help improve scientists’ understanding of hurricanes and pave the way for future improvements in hurricane intensity forecasts. As the gliders travel underwater for hundreds of miles, they will dive repeatedly to collect three-dimensional ocean observations, such as temperature, salinity, and the speed and direction of ocean currents. On this mission, the gliders will also collect acoustic data about fish and marine mammal migrations.

Rutgers University is leading the glider mission, which involves the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast IOOS regions. In addition to glider data, the mission will collect satellite, moored buoy, and coastal radar data. The collected glider data will go through NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center to NOAA’s National Weather Service, the U.S. Navy, and other data users for modeling. Data from the glider missions is also available on the IOOS Glider Asset Map.

“When storms are moving along our coasts, lives depend on accurate forecasts,” says IOOS Program Director Zdenka Willis. “Unmanned gliders sample the ocean in places where it is impractical to send people, and at a fraction of the cost, allowing us to collect data even in the middle of a storm. This information ultimately helps improve forecast precision so that decision makers can keep people safe.”

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IOOS is a federal, regional, and private-sector partnership working to increase understanding of our ocean and coasts so that decision makers can improve safety, enhance the economy, and protect the environment. In addition to NOAA funding provided through the IOOS regions, other funding sources include the Office of Naval Research, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, a private donor from the University of Delaware, and Canada’s Ocean Tracking Network.

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