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NOAA announces $4.5M in funding for new observing technologies for ENSO research and predictions

NOAA announces $4.5M in funding for new observing technologies for ENSO research and predictions

NOAA is investing $4.5 million over the next four years in four projects testing technology to enhance Tropical Pacific Ocean observing, which improves understanding of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), its prediction, and how it affects Earth’s weather.

Understanding ENSO’s effects has been a major focus of multiple agencies and countries across the globe for decades. In 1979, a Tropical Pacific atmosphere and ocean observing buoy network was initiated to improve understanding of ENSO by improving ocean observations in the tropical Pacific Ocean. In the three decades since the initial launch, scientists have utilized a few new technologies, such as Argo floats, to unravel the complexities of ENSO. These new platforms offer additional capabilities that could help scientists better predict and project the effects of ENSO.

The newly-funded projects are contributing towards the international TPOS 2020 Project to develop the future  tropical Pacific ocean observing system. “Testing of these new observing technologies, sensors, and platforms is critical for advancing our knowledge of this important ocean region and its impacts on US weather, extreme events, water resources, and marine ecosystems” says David Legler, a division leader for NOAA’s global ocean observing program. “We’re exploring new ways of taking measurements of a bigger range of ocean conditions that we never dreamt possible when we first began observing ENSO decades ago” he added noting the importance of thorough testing and evaluation that must be carried out before these technologies are used regularly.

The four new projects are:


Enhanced ocean boundary layer observations on the TAO moorings

  •  William Kessler (PMEL), Karen Grissom (NBDC), and Meghan Cronin (PMEL)

The near-surface is the “blind spot” for current profiles, whether measured from ships or subsurface moorings. This project from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) and NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center (NBDC) will mount Acoustic Doppler Current Profiles on existing Tropical Atmospheric Ocean (TAO) moorings. These new sensors will measure ocean currents in the upper 40 meters of the water column, where direct wind forcing of ocean currents occur.

Profiling Rainfall, Wind Speed, and Biogeochemical Sensors for Use in the Tropical Pacific Observing System

  • Stephen Riser (University of Washington) and Jie Yang (UW Applied Physics Laboratory)

Using standard Argo floats, researchers from the University of Washington, will outfit each float with sensors to measure near-surface temperature and salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH, and chlorophyll in the upper 2000 meters of the water column. Wind speed and rainfall will also be measured by an acoustic sensor on the float.

Autonomous Surface Vessels as Low-Cost TPOS Platforms for Observing the Planetary Boundary Layer and Surface Biogeochemistry

  • Meghan Cronin and Christian Meinig (PMEL), Dongxiao Zhang, Adrienne Sutton, (Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and the Oceans (JISAO) at the University of Washington.)

A new autonomous sailing vessel developed by Saildrone, Inc., will be outfitted with a full suite of sensors to estimate wind stress and the air-sea exchange of heat and carbon dioxide in the Tropical Pacific. Launched and retrieved from the California coast, the saildrone will be completely controlled on land by PMEL and Saildrone Inc. This project will demonstrate the Saildrone’s ability to make low-cost climate-quality meteorological, oceanic and biogeochemical observations along the equator.

Development and Testing of Direct (Eddy Covariance) Turbulent Flux Measurements for NDBC TAO Buoys

  • J. Thomas Farrar (WHOI), James Edson (University of Connecticut), Meghan Cronin (PMEL), and Chris Fairall (ESRL)

In this project, a  WHOI-developed low-power direct covariance flux system (DCFS) will be the technology base for future development on selected TAO buoys. The flux system will be will derived from the most recent system developed at WHOI and the University of Connecticut for the Ocean Observatories Initiative. Using the direct covariance method, these flux packages remove platform motion from the measured wind velocity to allow a direct estimate of fluxes.

This investment is a contribution of NOAA to the advancement of the Tropical Pacific Observing System (TPOS 2020) Project rethinking the ocean/marine observing system in the tropical Pacific. This observing system is critical to NOAA’s mission to improve weather and climate prediction, modeling, and forecasting. The benefit of this improved observation system will have a global impact.

The Climate Observations Division in a part of NOAA’s Climate Program Office. The Climate Program Office–situated within the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research–helps improve understanding of climate variability and change in order to enhance society’s ability to plan and respond. NOAA provides science, data, and information that Americans want and need to understand how climate conditions are changing. Without NOAA’s long-term climate observing, monitoring, research, and modeling capabilities we couldn’t quantify where and how climate conditions have changed, nor could we predict where and how they’re likely to change.