Making Sense of Mother Nature (Ithaca Journal)
10/06/2005 - 11/30/-0001
Hurricanes have increased in intensity, but not frequency or duration, according to recent studies on the phenomenon. A study published Sept. 16 in the journal “Science” found that since 1990, an average of 18 Category 4 and 5 storms, of similar strength to Hurricane Katrina, have occurred every year, compared with an average of 10 in the 1970s.
Warmer ocean temperatures are thought to be a contributing factor to this increase in intensity, though most scientists agree more studies need to be done to prove this theory.
The ADC-crafted sensors will help collect data, including water temperature, that can be used to track this type of long-term trend.
LANSING — Eric Van Every's handiwork is now lying at the bottom of the ocean.
For many, this would be a sign of failure, but for Van Every and Advanced Design Consulting
USA, Inc. the company for which he works, this was the goal all along.
A research and development engineer for the Lansing-based company, Van Every has been
leading the design of “miniaturized environmental monitoring sensors” for a contract with the
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
These little devices, made of a heavy duty battery and circuit board contained in a sausage-sized cylinder of PVC-type plastic, are being deployed on lobster traps throughout the northeast. Able to read the water's temperature, salinity, pH and pressure, the devices are part of NOAA's attempt to expand their understanding of oceans.
“It's a new era in oceanography. We want monitoring of the ocean the way NOAA has observed the atmosphere,” said Jim Manning, a NOAA oceanographer.
To do that, NOAA needs more observations from more sites over a longer period of time. Those observations could then be fed into numerical models to detect trends. Manning said in the 1990s, to get similar information, oceanographers would go out on big research ships for two weeks per year “and we wouldn't always find what we were looking for.”
That is where Advanced Design Consulting steps in. Instead of NOAA operating a few massive
weather buoys and sending oceanographers out for one trip per year, these sensors are
designed to take a considerable amount of data.
They will be able to record information hourly that can be uploaded via satellite daily for at least five years. They will also be relatively inexpensive at less than $100 per sensor.
So far NOAA has paid Advanced Design Consulting a little more than $100,000 for the first
contract, which was to prove such a device was possible, and then another $300,000 to develop 10 to 20 prototypes. Alex Deyhim, president of ADC expects the prototypes to be ready in two years, meaning the sensors will be ready for commercialization.
When that happens, Deyhim and others see a multitude of possibilities for the product. In the
wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the possibility of better understanding hurricanes has great appeal. The sensors would be able to get readings before, during and after such massive events, a feat that's nearly impossible now.
Additionally, many scientists feel that rising ocean temperatures play a role in the increased
intensity of storms such as Katrina. Scientists want more data to be able to make a conclusive link between the two phenomena, a need these sensors could meet.
Along the Maine and Massachusetts coasts, lobstermen already recognize the value of the
“We're trying to outsmart an animal that doesn't have a brain, and we lose all the time,” said
lobsterman Dave Casoni, in a Boston accent true to his Cape Cod roots. “They're so sensitive
that we want to understand how temperature affects when they shed or mate or leave.”
Manning, the oceanographer, said gaining a better understanding of global warming, through
mapping long-term trends, is another justification for the NOAA spending. This data could be
used to determine its effect, if any, on everything from lobster and shrimp harvests to rain and water levels.
Originally published October 6, 2005