Robots dive in quest for weather secrets of seas
By Michael Byrnes
SYDNEY-- High-tech robots able to dive to two kilometers are being sent to the
seas in an underwater weather mapping campaign which could help spare remote
villagers from famine as well as guide torpedoes to deadly accurate hits.
Australian scientists are at the forefront of a global drive to tap the
secrets of the seas through free-floating robots, after a successful two-year
trial of 10 of the sophisticated instruments off the northwest coast of
"A revolutionary international ocean monitoring system has been confirmed,"
said Craig Macaulay of Australia's government-backed science agency, the
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).
Around 3,000 of the floating, diving robots will be placed by 13 nations in
the world's seas, including the Southern Ocean which swirls around the
Antarctic, over the next five years.
The 1.5 meter-long cylindrical aluminum floats, valued at around $15,600 each,
are sub-sea equivalents of weather balloons, drifting with currents at depths
of two kilometers, surfacing every 10 days to send their data.
The information, beamed to super-computers via satellites, will provide
virtually continuous mapping of sea currents, temperatures and salinity, for
the first time.
Near real-time accuracy will be precise enough to tell submarine commanders
whether to fire that torpedo or whether invisible water conditions will make
it a wasted shot. There will be applications for shipping, oil drilling,
marine safety and rescue and fisheries, Australian scientists say.
(Yet Another) REVOLUTION
But potentially the biggest payoff will be use with atmospheric data to better
predict major weather events, including El Nino/La Nina phenomena which have
killed and devastated communities over ages with droughts, floods and fires.
"In our world it's like a revolution that we're going through," scientist
Neville Smith of Australia's Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre told
Smith established the Global Ocean Data Assimilation Experiment (GODAE) which
has been conducting Indian Ocean trials between Christmas Island and
Australia's Northwest Shelf.
"In a year we'll have the same amount of information on salinity as we've
collected in our history. It's that big leap for salinity which has a lot of
people very excited," he said.
Salinity dictates how oceans interact with the atmosphere, on short time
scales with El Nino events which cause wild swings in rainfall, and on long
time scales for climate change, he said.
Subsea weather maps -- which GODAE aims to produce within 24 hours of
receiving data -- would greatly increase the certainty of predictions of
weather events, such as El Ninos, and ocean patterns, used by offshore
drillers and in coastal management.
"The biggest impact is that it will introduce some certainty into greenhouse
discussions and El Nino forecasts," Smith said.
The first 10 floats were placed in October 1999, followed by seven more in the
Pacific Ocean between Western Samoa and New Caledonia in July this year
jointly by Australia and the United States, and deployment will speed up over
the next two years.
Britain will place floats in Antarctic waters before the end of this year,
Japan will put floats into the Indian Ocean within six months, India will
follow with more floats after that.
About 900 floats will cover the Southern Ocean, which Smith describes as ``the
oceanic engine-room driving global climate.''
Canada, China, Denmark, the European Union, France, Germany, South Korea, New
Zealand and Spain are also involved in the $15 million a year program.
The trial floats deployed by Australia had already helped reveal how powerful
currents flowing from the Pacific into the Indian Ocean north of Australia
spawned huge ocean eddies 600 kilometers across, said CSIRO oceanographer
Susan Wijffels, manager of Australia's robotic floats project.
Scientists had learned that weather across western and southern Australia was
linked to patches of warm and cool water in the Indian Ocean, producing an
interaction known as the Indian Ocean Dipole, a cousin of the El Nino effect
in the Pacific.
--- --- --- --- ---
Useless hypotheses, etc.:
consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind, free will, qualia,
analog computing, cultural relativism, GAC, Cyc, Eliza, cryonics, individual
uniqueness, ego, human values, scientific relinquishment, malevolent AI,
We move into a better future in proportion as science displaces superstition.
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