Friday, April 4, 2008

Robot buoys are taking the ocean's pulse

Nice article by Sandy Doughton in the Seattle Times: When Steve Riser sends his research progeny out into the world, he knows he'll probably never see them again. But they call home regularly. "Here's one that just came up today, off Hawaii," the University of Washington oceanographer said, scrolling through a list on his computer. A mouse click reveals another one floating under the ice south of Australia. Dozens drift along the coast of Washington and Oregon.

Riser's babies are torpedo-shaped robots designed to measure ocean temperature, salinity and currents and beam the data back via satellite. Scattered around the globe, the probes are part of the first worldwide network to monitor the 70 percent of the planet covered with water. "We've never had anything like this," said Riser, who along with his colleagues recently celebrated a milestone: deployment of their 3,000th robotic float.

That's the target the team set nearly a decade ago, when it first made its pitch that scientists need to know what's going on in the oceans in order to understand climate change. Even before the network called Argo was complete, it helped refine forecasts of global warming's likely impacts on sea level and patterns of drought.

"The Argo floats are creating a revolution in oceanography and our ability to do climate prediction," said Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. "They must be kept going."…

The Argo Float network, "Hjfreeland," Wikimedia Commons

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