Sunday, November 11, 2007

Argo buoys unlocking ocean, climate secrets

Palm Beach Daily News: From tropical storm to hurricane to nor'easter, the short but troubled life of Noel made headlines along the Eastern seaboard over the last two weeks. Here in South Florida, Noel took a huge bite out of the beaches, removing an estimated 12,000 truckloads of sand. Along the coastline of New England, Noel made history, generating waves 45 feet high along the Georgian Bank, 6 feet higher than those measured during the famous "Perfect Storm" of October 1991. Noel's waves were the highest recorded at the buoy since online records began in 1984.

The swamped buoy in the Georgian Bank is one of dozens deployed in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea that track wave heights, record sea-surface temperature and provide a variety of real-time weather data. Still, these buoys and others around the world only supply data on waters close to coastlines. What goes on in the deep, blue seas remain a mystery. Until, Argo came along.

Named for the ship in Greek mythology that Jason used in his search for the Golden Fleece, Argo is an ambitious, multi-national program to monitor every ocean of the world. More than 3,000 autonomous buoys have been deployed by nearly two dozen countries literally around the world, providing, for the first time, real-time information to researchers and operational centers, revolutionizing the collection of information from inside the oceans.

The self-operating buoys are an engineering marvel. Each of the devices spends 10 hours at the surface transmitting data to an orbiting satellite. When the transmission is complete, the Argo buoy descends to a depth of 1,000 meters where it records salinity levels, ocean currents and water temperatures.

The buoy remains submerged, essentially drifting in the deep ocean water, for eight to 10 days before descending to a depth of 2,000 meters where more recordings and measurements of the ocean are made. Finally, the buoy returns to the ocean surface to transmit information and begin the cycle once more.

"Completion of the full implementation of the Argo float program is the first step in a truly global ocean-observing system that will help warn society of threatening climate change," said James Baker, former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Argo program began in 1998 during Baker's tenure at NOAA….

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