from Strat Risks: In the next decade, Navy scientists will be able to predict the
weather as far as 90 days into the future with the help of mathematical
models, satellites, and submarine drones.
The mathematical models are the most important element in the ocean
and weather prediction cocktail. But making those models perform at a
level where they can be reliable so far into the future requires data
from everywhere, including more places under the sea. That’s where the
submarine drones make the difference.
Improved data from drones is one of the key elements of making naval
environmental forecasting significantly better in the years ahead, Navy
Research Lab scientist Gregg Jacobs said.
Today, the Slocum glider is the most recognizable drone that the Navy
and others use in research. These 5 foot-long sea robots collect data
on their environment every few seconds and can descend to depths of
4,000 feet. The Navy plans to increase the number of those drones from
65 to 150 by 2015.
Submarine drones like the Slocum collect data on salinity and
temperature at various spots in the ocean. For the Navy, that’s key to
figuring out where to park submarines since temperature and salinity can
determine how fast sound can travel. Finding the right spot can make a
parked submarine much more difficult to detect. But the bigger value of
the undersea drones is all the data they’ll contribute to ocean models
and our ability to predict future weather.
The Slocum isn’t the only underwater drone the military is
developing. In its fiscal year 2015 budget request, the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency wants $19 million for its Upward Falling
Payload Program to “develop forward-deployed unmanned distributed
systems [drones] that can provide non-lethal effects or situational
awareness over large maritime areas.” That’s a spending increase of
nearly 60 percent over last year.
Today, researchers use separate models to forecast for the ocean,
atmosphere, waves and ice. This approach is inconsistent, according to
Jacobs. He says that bringing together lots of different models and
methods of measurement “in a single system modeling the whole earth
environment will bring consistency and extended range forecasts out to
90 days” within the next decade.
The Navy is trying to make that happen in a couple of ways. First,
there’s the Navy Ocean Forecast System, a complex computer program that
uses meteorology, oceanography, satellite and sensor data to see into
the future of the ocean, allowing a detailed view into the physics of
water. The Navy uses this information specifically to predict the
behavior of eddies, or big swaths of ocean currents. They work sort of
the way atmospheric cold and warm pressure fronts do, but while cold
fronts are often the size of continents and move over a span of days,
eddies are hundreds of kilometers large and move over periods of months.
They can also be extremely deep and hard to analyze.
The Navy recently announced a deal to share the Navy Ocean Forecast System software with the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.
Not only will sea bots help researchers understand the ocean in
greater detail, they’ll also allow the Navy to know how much confidence
to put into a forecast at any one time. That’s key, since knowing what
the weather might be in three months is less important than knowing when
your model is breaking down.