Seafaring robots may help gauge the danger of hurricanes. Videos show how they work

Researchers are sending four unmanned ocean robots out to sea this week to help with storm forecasts during the hurricane season.

The ocean gliders will collect data like water temperature and salinity that can help fine-tune forecast models, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“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,” according to NOAA.

Researchers set courses for the gliders and the robots will do a series of dives to collect data on ocean conditions, NOAA said. The drones can dive down to 500 feet and then transmit the information to a satellite when they resurface.

“Warm water has the potential to strengthen storms while cool waters may weaken them, so knowing if a storm will pass over only warm water or areas where cold water may be stirred up from below helps scientists and forecasters predict whether a storm will intensify or weaken as it travels,” NOAA said.

The ocean drones can even work in hurricane conditions, researchers said.

NOAA forecasters have been deploying the gliders since 2014 and make the data available to the public so forecasters can work on their own hurricane models and use the information in their own research.

drone paths.JPG
Orange lines show the paths where researchers plan to send the unmanned ocean gliders to collect data for hurricane forecasts, according to NOAA. NOAA

NOAA has used the gliders to collect all kinds of data from the ocean, even equipping them to find fish by listening for the sounds they make while spawning.

“A glider may be equipped with many different sensors. It can be outfitted to monitor temperature, salinity, currents, and other ocean conditions,” according to researchers.

“The glider records what its sensors detect to a memory card. When the mission is complete, it surfaces and relays its position to a satellite. It then waits to be picked up. Mission complete.”

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.