Inside Sam: Sail Drone in a Cat 4 Hurricane

September 30, 2021

Washington Post:

Scientists with Saildrone and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration managed to drive a robotic surfboard into the core of Category 4 Hurricane Sam on Thursday, in a first-of-its-kind scientific mission as they try to better understand hurricanes.

The video, captured just northeast of Hurricane Sam’s monstrous eye, depicts eerily dark skies, screaming winds and a thick veil of sea spray and mist lofted into the air. Enormous waves can be seen swinging the probe like a pendulum.

Saildrone is a company that manufactures probes that collect ocean data for use in environmental studies. Saildrones come in three different sizes, and can be fitted with devices to measure weather and ocean conditions, map the seafloor and even track “biomass,” or fish and other organisms, that live in the waters.

“Saildrone is going where no research vessel has ever ventured, sailing right into the eye of the hurricane, gathering data that will transform our understanding of these powerful storms,” said Richard Jenkins, Saildrone’s founder and chief executive, in a news release Thursday. The company is working to learn more about the link between the ocean and atmosphere, and the exchange of heat energy and chemical compounds between the two.

Saildrone units have been used to study the infamously hostile Arctic Ocean and Southern (or Antarctic) Ocean. Jenkins described hurricanes as the “last frontier for Saildrone survivability.”

Greg Foltz, a scientist at NOAA, said he hopes the data collected by Saildrone can offer insight into the dynamics of rapid hurricane intensification, which occurs when a storm strengthens by 35 mph or more within 24 hours. Rapidly intensifying storms pose a grave hazard to coastal communities and are particularly challenging to forecast. Scientists see a link between human-induced climate change and the propensity for storms to intensify rapidly.


4 Responses to “Inside Sam: Sail Drone in a Cat 4 Hurricane”

  1. ecoquant Says:

    Really excellent. Never heard of Saildrone before.

    As a sailor, engineering, and physics/quant guy, I’m interested!


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