Fun Fact Friday

Courtesy of SKIO

Did you know that underwater gliders, operated by researchers at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SKIO), are part of a national effort to use marine robots to improve the accuracy of storm forecast models? As we learned from Dorian earlier this week, to say hurricanes are unpredictable is somewhat of an understatement! 

Hurricanes feed off of heat from warm ocean waters like that found in the Caribbean, and in the Gulf Stream and shallow waters off the southeast United States, known as the South Atlantic Bight. This can be a tremendous source of energy for developing storms. Heat is transferred between the ocean and atmosphere at the ocean’s surface, but it is important to understand the amount of subsurface heat as well. 

“Places where warm waters near the surface lie over cooler water near the bottom, winds, and other factors can mix up the water, cooling the surface and limiting the heat available to the atmosphere,” UGA Skidaway Institute researcher Catherine Edwards said. “Satellite data provides a nice picture of where the surface ocean is warm, but the subsurface temperature field remains hidden.” 

This is where autonomous underwater vehicles, also known as gliders, can collect valuable information. Gliders are torpedo-shaped crafts that can be packed with sensors and sent on underwater missions to collect oceanographic data. The gliders measure temperature and salinity, among other parameters, as they profile up and down in the water. Equipped with satellite phones, the gliders surface periodically to transmit their recorded data during missions that can last from weeks to months. 

“This regular communication with the surface allows us to adapt the mission on the fly, and also process and share the data only minutes to hours after it has been measured,” Edwards said. “By using a network of data contributed by glider operators around the world, the U.S. Navy and other ocean modelers can incorporate these data into their predictions, injecting subsurface heat content information into the hurricane models from below.” 

UGA Skidaway Institute researcher Catherine Edwards will discuss her work with marine robots in an Evening @ Skidaway program entitled Hurricane Gliders – Using Ocean Robots to Improve Tropical Storm Forecasts on Tuesday, September 10, in the McGowan Library on the University of Georgia Skidaway Marine Science Campus (10 Ocean Science Circle, Savannah, GA 31411). The event will begin with a reception at 6:30 p.m., followed by the program at 7 p.m. 

The program is open to the public, and admission is free. Space is limited. To reserve a seat, please contact Mike Sullivan (912-598-2325 or mike.sullivan@skio.uga.edu). 

 Photo courtesy of SKIO