Saildrone announces a new mission to deploy five unmanned surface vehicles (UPS) from the U.S. Virgin Islands in August to collect critical data throughout the 2021 hurricane season in the tropical Atlantic. The UPSs are equipped with specially developed “Hurricane Wings” in order to be able to operate under extreme conditions. Saildrones are the only UPSs that can collect this data and are designed to withstand winds over 70 mph and waves over 10 feet that occur during a hurricane weather system. The five sailing drones will sail into the orbits of hurricanes to provide valuable real-time observations for numerical hurricane prediction models and to gather new insights into how these large and destructive weather cells grow and intensify.
Not only do hurricanes pose a persistent threat to human security in coastal cities, but they also have a significant economic impact – the damage caused by hurricanes in the United States is estimated at around $ 54 billion annually. Understanding the physical processes of hurricanes is critical to improving deadly storm predictions and reducing property damage and loss of life.
The mission aims to improve understanding and predictability of the changes in intensity of tropical cyclones and to increase knowledge of the ocean-atmosphere interactions that drive them. The Saildrones will provide new in-situ data to the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) and the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), Saildrones’ scientific partners on this daring mission. The data will also be of value to other groups. These include the National Weather Service, which will use this data to improve forecasts, and the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS), which will work to match data results from other observation platforms such as gliders.
“The biggest gap in our understanding of hurricanes is the processes by which they intensify so quickly and the ability to accurately predict their strength. We know that heat exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere is one of the important physical processes that provide energy to a storm, but to improve understanding we need to collect in-situ observations during a storm. Obviously, this is extremely difficult given the danger of these storms. We hope that the data collected with sailing drones will help us improve the model physics and then in turn improve the predictions of hurricane intensity “, explained Dr. Jun Zhang, a scientist in the Hurricane Research Division at NOAA / AOML.
“The new hurricane wing is a game changer for collecting in-situ data under the most extreme weather conditions on earth”, said Richard Jenkins, founder and CEO of Saildrone. “Saildrone will be able to go where no science ship has ventured, right in the eye of the hurricane, and gather data that could make communities around the world safer from these devastating storms.”
The vehicles transmit meteorological and oceanographic data in real time, including air temperature and relative humidity, air pressure, wind speed and direction, water temperature and salinity, sea surface temperature and wave height and duration. The data is also sent to the Global Telecommunication System (GTS) of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and distributed to all major forecast centers – around 20 agencies worldwide, including NOAA.
“PMEL has been working with Saildrone since 2015 to develop the platform for specific marine conditions. Sending a robotic vehicle in the eye of a hurricane has never been done before. It is an incredibly complex engineering challenge that has a major positive impact on our ability to predict extreme weather for the benefit of the communities faced with these events “, said Christian Meinig, Director of Engineering at NOAA / PMEL.
This mission is intended to create a basis for PMEL and AOML to deploy a larger fleet of sailing drones as part of a large field campaign for hurricane observation.
Source and top image: Saildrone