Satellites of the Sea: Observing the Ocean for Hurricane Research

How do we know how strong a hurricane will be and where it will make landfall? Some answers can be found in the ocean. Ocean observing instruments collect data about ocean conditions, such as temperature, salinity, and pressure. This information helps scientists improve forecasts of hurricane intensity and path, and to warn people who may be in danger.



When a hurricane is forming, we use a fleet of high-tech ocean observing tools to improve our predictions of the storm. Let's take a look at some of this cool technology.

The temperature of the ocean and its level of saltiness or salinity can tell us if a hurricane is going to quickly increase to a Category 5 or if it will fizzle into a tropical storm. Collecting this information can be dangerous and difficult. So, how can we get the information we need from the surface to the deep ocean?

Uncrewed ocean observing systems relay real-time data that informs local forecasts. Thousands of Argo floats are currently floating with ocean currents across the globe. These robots dive deep in the water column, repeatedly sending data to scientists.

But Argo floats aren't always near a hurricane, so it's underwater gliders to the rescue. These remote-controlled robots monitor waters where hurricanes often form and when a storm is developing nearby, gliders can be steered toward it to collect vital data from the water column.

It gets very windy in a hurricane. We can measure these high speed winds with a drifting buoy, or drifter. These beach ball-sized instruments drift with currents, collecting information at the surface of the water and from the air above. Drifters are not remote-controlled like the gliders, but we can deploy them from planes and drop them right into the eye of a storm.

And speaking of being in the eye of a hurricane, check out this first ever footage from inside Hurricane Sam captured by a saildrone. These gigantic robotic drones are wind and solar powered and can be remote-controlled to collect critical information from the ocean to the atmosphere.

These are just some of the tools scientists use to observe the ocean and to better understand hurricanes. With more information about the ocean and the atmosphere, scientists are improving hurricane intensity predictions and helping communities prepare for the next storm.