Saildrone hunts down hurricanes • St Pete Catalyst

A company operating out of the St. Petersburg Maritime Defense and Technology Center is using its unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) to better understand how hurricanes develop and intensify quickly.

From its headquarters in Alameda, California, Saildrone conducts ocean mapping operations from the waterfront hub of St. Petersburg’s Innovation District. In partnership with the neighboring National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of the company’s USVs set sail on Tuesday for the Gulf of Mexico, where it will collect and transmit critical real-time data throughout the season. 2022 hurricanes.

Today’s event was part of Saildrone’s second annual hurricane mission. Last year, one of its USVs provided the first-ever live video footage from inside the eye of a Category 4 hurricane. NOAA researchers are using data collected by semi- autonomous to improve forecasting models. Information is also available for 20 agencies worldwide.

Captain Philip Hall, director of NOAA’s unmanned systems operations center, explained that USVs gather valuable information from the ocean surface inaccessible to “hurricane-hunting” aircraft.

“That’s where these highly autonomous systems really play a really big role,” Hall said. “I think they are really transforming the way NOAA fulfills its mission.”

Saildrones transmit meteorological and oceanographic data to researchers in real time. This includes air temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, water temperature and salinity, and wave height.

A larger Saildrone USV sits outside its ocean mapping headquarters at the St. Pete Maritime and Defense Technology Center.

In addition to the USV launched from the port of St. Petersburg on Tuesday, which will take one to three weeks to reach its mission destination, Saildrone deployed six other unmanned vessels from Jacksonville and the US Virgin Islands earlier this summer. The rest of the fleet will chase hurricanes throughout the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

Hall noted that saildrones work in conjunction with multiple underwater gliders, and operators can direct them to the area of ​​a storm that provides the most valuable information.

“And then they can be out for weeks or months at a time in the ocean,” Hall added. “It can collect data before the storm, during the storm and then after the storm. It’s a very unique data system that these systems bring.

John Cortinas, director of NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, called Saildrone’s hurricane mission an “outstanding” example of public, private and academic partnerships. He said collaborations like these are essential to achieve the research needed to benefit the nation and its citizens.

Cortinas explained that the ocean surface plays a critical role in the formation and intensification of hurricanes. He said the data provided by Saildrone’s USVs led to more accurate intensity forecasts, potentially saving lives.

“Partnering with companies like Saildrone allows us to venture into some of the most powerful parts of a hurricane’s surface – without risking human life,” Cortinas said. “This is extremely important in advancing our understanding of these extremely dangerous storms.”

According to an accompanying press release, a Saildrone USV withstood 100ft waves and 140mph winds as it sailed through the eyewall of Category 4 Hurricane Sam in the Atlantic. Last year.

Matt Womble, Director of Ocean Data Programs for Saildrone, introduced the company’s Mission Portal inside the hub. He called the display group a data dissemination tool for NOAA scientists and other customers.

Portal data also enables communication between organizations to coordinate efforts, and Womble showed a screen following a USV in pursuit of a NOAA glider. The USV, he said, collects critical data to provide forecasters with a better idea of ​​current ocean conditions.

Matt Womble, Director of Ocean Data Programs for Saildrone, introduced the company’s Mission Portal.

“While we wait for storms to develop in the Gulf, we are constantly working,” Womble explained. “It’s not just about waiting and doing nothing. “

Having a base of operations in St. Pete, Womble said, provides a forward operating location to deploy station assets and pilots. While USVs are semi-autonomous, he said humans are constantly “in the know”, monitoring vehicle flows and status.

Womble added that Saildrone plans to continue to increase the size and scope of its ocean and hurricane mapping missions, and have a waterfront base with direct access to the Gulf and close to the eastern Atlantic. invaluable.

According to the release, NOAA predicts an above-average hurricane season, with up to 21 named storms and three to six “major” hurricanes.

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