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NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory

Our research portfolio encompasses ocean, coastal, and atmospheric studies to ready the Nation for changes driven by weather, climate, and pressures on marine ecosystems.

Improving Hurricane Forecasts

We fly into storms to directly observe the processes that drive intensity change, employ new technology such as ocean gliders and unmanned aircraft to observe where humans cannot safely go, and get these observations into our evolving and improving hurricane models like the Hurricane Weather Research Forecast (HWRF) model to help NOAA provide the best forecasts possible.

Identifying Solutions for Coastal Ecosystems

AOML takes an ecosystem-based approach to describing how the physical, chemical, and human environment is connected to and influences marine species. We consider impacts and relationships to coastal systems such as coral reefs, and economically important fish stocks managed by our NOAA and state partners, so that they can best manage resources.

Understanding the Global Carbon Cycle

AOML works with our partners to describe the ocean’s role in the global carbon cycle. Using ships of opportunity, we monitor carbon as it moves between the ocean and the atmosphere. We also look at the impact of increasing amounts of carbon in the ocean, which causes ocean acidification.

Understanding the Ocean's Role in Climate & Weather

AOML leverages data from its ocean observing systems to examine patterns of change in ocean features and how these patterns of change can explain, and even predict, severe weather events such as hurricanes. We also study how the ocean can influence seasonal patterns such as extreme temperatures and drought.

Maintaining Ocean Observing Systems

AOML designs, optimizes, and maintains key ocean observing systems with global partners to monitor ocean currents and other properties. We study how ocean changes affect climate and marine ecosystems and build on the current state of knowledge by maintaining valuable, long-term datasets of ocean changes over time to improve earth system predictions.

Advancing Environmental Modeling

Computer simulations of the natural world help inform decision making and save lives. We work closely with federal, university, and international communities to advance the state of hurricane modeling, inform sound economic investment in observing systems, and understand the impact of resource management decisions.

Recent News

Satellite image of Hurricane Micheal. Image Credit, NOAA.
Ocean Conditions Played a Major Role in the Intensification of Hurricane Michael (2018)

In a recent study published in AGU’s Journal of Geophysical Research – Oceans, scientists at AOML identified key ocean features that supported the rapid intensification of Hurricane Michael (2018), despite unfavorable atmospheric conditions for development. The study demonstrates the importance of using realistic ocean conditions for coupled (ocean-atmosphere) hurricane models in order to achieve the most accurate hurricane intensity forecasts.

Top News

Ocean Conditions Played a Major Role in the Intensification of Hurricane Michael (2018)

In a recent study published in AGU’s Journal of Geophysical Research – Oceans, scientists at AOML identified key ocean features that supported the rapid intensification of Hurricane Michael (2018), despite unfavorable atmospheric conditions for development. The study demonstrates the importance of using realistic ocean conditions for coupled (ocean-atmosphere) hurricane models in order to achieve the most accurate hurricane intensity forecasts.

Satellite image of Hurricane Micheal. Image Credit, NOAA.
AOML Scientists Prepare for 2021 Hurricane Season
BGC Argo Floats Provide First Year-Round Net Primary Production Estimates for the Western North Atlantic
Coral Outplanting. Image Credit: NOAA
Heat Tolerant Corals May Be the Key to Improving Restoration Efforts
New Experimental Tool Has the Potential to Improve Restoration Efforts for Coral Reefs
Coral Outplanting. Image Credit: NOAA
Image Credit: UNESCO
Wind streaks and whitecaps on the ocean surface from Hurricane Edouard's 65 kt winds. Image credit: NOAA

Hurricane, Climate, Coastal and Ocean Research.

ADVANCING Environmental Modeling

Computer simulations of the natural world help inform decision making and save lives. We work closely with federal, academic, and international communities to advance the state of hurricane modeling, inform sound economic investment in observing systems, and understand the impact of resource management decisions.

UNDERSTANDING The Global Carbon Cycle

AOML works with our partners to describe the ocean’s role in the global carbon cycle. Using ships of opportunity, we monitor carbon as it moves between the ocean and the atmosphere. We also look at the impact of increasing amounts of carbon in the ocean, which causes ocean acidification.

IMPROVING Hurricane Forecasts

We fly into storms to directly observe the processes that drive intensity change, employ new technology such as ocean gliders and unmanned aircraft to observe where humans cannot safely go, and get these observations into our evolving and improving hurricane models like the Hurricane Weather Research Forecast (HWRF) model to help NOAA provide the best forecasts possible.

UNDERSTANDING THE OCEAN'S ROLE In Climate & Weather

AOML leverages data from its ocean observing systems to examine  patterns of change in ocean features and how these patterns of change can explain, and even predict, severe weather events such as hurricanes. We also study how the ocean can influence seasonal patterns such as extreme temperatures and drought.

MAINTAINING Ocean Observing Systems

AOML designs, optimizes, and maintains key ocean observing systems with global partners to monitor ocean currents and other properties. We study how ocean changes affect climate and marine ecosystems and build on the current state of knowledge by maintaining valuable, long-term datasets of ocean changes over time to improve earth system predictions.

IDENTIFYING SOLUTIONS For Coastal Ecosystems

AOML takes an ecosystem-based approach to describing how the physical, chemical, and human environment is connected to and influences marine species. We consider impacts and relationships to coastal systems such as coral reefs and economically important fish stocks managed by our NOAA and state partners, so that they can best manage resources.

Our Research Makes an Impact

Project: Monitoring the Ocean Improves Weather Forecasts

AOML plays a key role in collecting and maintaining sustained ocean observations that monitor the temperature and salinity of ocean features using drifters, Argo floats, XBTs, moorings, and other platforms.

Impact: Adding Ocean Data from Directly Beneath a Storm Leads to More Accurate Hurricane Forecasts

Unmanned Ocean Glider data improve our understanding of the current ocean state and are used to initialize hurricane models. Data from gliders passing under Hurricane Gonzalo improved the intensity forecast by one category on the Saffir Simpson Scale.

Project: Monitoring Commercially Important Sportfish Populations

AOML developed a sportfish model that the US Army Corps of Engineers adopted to evaluate the impacts of Everglades Restoration on south Florida’s economically and ecologically important sportfish populations.

Impact: Empowers Managers to Evaluate Different Scenarios and Plan for the Future

The majority of sportfish in south Florida are dependent upon healthy estuaries with natural freshwater runoff. The model shows how sea trout would respond to different management scenarios, giving managers actionable information.

Project: HWRF's High Resolution Moving Nest Module

AOML developed a high resolution moving nest in NOAA's regional hurricane model known as HWRF, increasing resolution over the storm environment. We transition the HWRF model into operations in joint partnership with NOAA's Environmental Modeling Center.

Impact: Improved Forecast Accuracy Better Informs Coastal Communities

The HWRF model has improved intensity forecasts by 10- 5 kts in the critical decision making period of 48-72 hours before landfall. This allows people to make informed decisions to prepare their families, homes, and communities.

Monitoring the Ocean Improves Weather Forecasts

AOML plays a key role in collecting and maintaining sustained ocean observations that monitor the temperature and salinity of ocean features using drifters, Argo floats, XBTs, moorings, and other platforms.

Impact: Adding Ocean Data from Directly Beneath a Storm Leads to More Accurate Hurricane Forecasts

Unmanned Ocean Glider data improve our understanding of the current ocean state and are used to initialize hurricane models. Data from gliders passing under Hurricane Gonzalo improved the intensity forecast by one category on the Saffir Simpson Scale.

Monitoring Commercially Important Sportfish Populations

AOML developed a sportfish model that the US Army Corps of Engineers adopted to evaluate the impacts of Everglades Restoration on south Florida’s economically and ecologically important sportfish populations.

Impact: Empowers Managers to Evaluate Different Scenarios and Plan for the Future

The majority of sportfish in south Florida are dependent upon healthy estuaries with natural freshwater runoff. The model shows how sea trout would respond to different management scenarios, giving managers actionable information.

HWRF's High Resolution Moving Nest

AOML developed a high resolution moving nest in NOAA’s regional hurricane model known as HWRF, increasing resolution over the storm environment. We transition the HWRF model into operations in joint partnership with NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center.

Impact: Improved Forecast Accuracy Better Informs Coastal Communities

The HWRF model has improved intensity forecasts by 10- 5 kts in the critical decision making period of 48-72 hours before landfall. This allows people to make informed decisions to prepare their families, homes, and communities.

Featured Publication

Integrated Ocean Carbon

IOC-R. 2021. Integrated Ocean Carbon Research: A Summary of Ocean Carbon Research, and Vision of Coordinated Ocean Carbon Research and Observations for the Next Decade. R. Wanninkhof, C. Sabine and S. Aricò (eds.). Paris, UNESCO. 46 pp. (IOC Technical Series, 158.) doi:10.25607/h0gj-pq41 

Introduction: Knowledge of the ocean carbon cycle is critical in light of its role in sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere and for meeting goals and targets such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris Agreement, the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the associated UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. Increasing levels of CO2 in the ocean, predominantly due to human greenhouse gas emissions, and the partitioning of CO2 into organic and inorganic species have fundamental impacts on ocean carbon cycling and ecosystem health. The Integrated Ocean Carbon Research (IOC-R) effort aims to address key issues in ocean carbon research through investigative and observational goals. It takes advantage of the appreciable knowledge gained from studies over the last four decades of the ocean carbon cycle and its perturbations.

Read the Full Report

iocr-report-cover

IOC-R. 2021. Integrated Ocean Carbon Research: A Summary of Ocean Carbon Research, and Vision of Coordinated Ocean Carbon Research and Observations for the Next Decade. R. Wanninkhof, C. Sabine and S. Aricò (eds.). Paris, UNESCO. 46 pp. (IOC Technical Series, 158.) doi:10.25607/h0gj-pq41 

Introduction: Knowledge of the ocean carbon cycle is critical in light of its role in sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere and for meeting goals and targets such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris Agreement, the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the associated UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. Increasing levels of CO2 in the ocean, predominantly due to human greenhouse gas emissions, and the partitioning of CO2 into organic and inorganic species have fundamental impacts on ocean carbon cycling and ecosystem health. The Integrated Ocean Carbon Research (IOC-R) effort aims to address key issues in ocean carbon research through investigative and observational goals. It takes advantage of the appreciable knowledge gained from studies over the last four decades of the ocean carbon cycle and its perturbations.

Read the Full Report

AOML & GFDL’s Grassroots Collaboration

New Opportunities in a Virtual Environment

“This is a great starting point; it gave people a list of more than 10 topics with researchers at both labs working on similar problems. We now know who is a  person we can contact, and that they are interested in collaborating because they gave a talk at the workshop.”

-Renellys Perez, Organizer and Participant

Frequently Asked Questions about Hurricanes

Why Don't Nuclear Weapons Destroy Hurricanes?

Radioactive fallout from such an operation would far outweigh the benefits and may not alter the storm.  Additionally, the amount of energy that a storm produces far outweighs the energy produced by one nuclear weapon.

How Much Energy is Released from a Hurricane?

The energy released from a hurricane can be explained in two ways: the total amount of energy released by the condensation of water droplets (latent heat), or the amount of kinetic energy generated to maintain the strong, swirling winds of a hurricane. The vast majority of the latent heat released is used to drive the convection of a storm, but the total energy released from condensation is 200 times the world-wide electrical generating capacity, or 6.0 x 1014 watts per day. If you measure the total kinetic energy instead, it comes out to about 1.5 x 1012 watts per day, or ½ of the world-wide electrical generating capacity. It would seem that although wind energy seems the most obvious energetic process, it is actually the latent release of heat that feeds a hurricane’s momentum.

What Causes Tropical Cyclones?

In addition to hurricane-favorable conditions such as temperature and humidity, many repeating atmospheric phenomenon contribute to causing and intensifying tropical cyclones. For example, African Easterly Waves are winds in the lower troposphere (ocean surface to 3 miles above) that travel from Africa at speeds of about 3mph westward as a result of the African Easterly Jet. These winds are seen from April until November. About 85% of intense hurricanes and about 60% of smaller storms have their origin in African Easterly waves.

The Saharan Air Layer is another significant seeding phenomenon for tropical storms.  It is a mass of dry, mineral-rich, dusty air that forms over the Sahara from late spring to early fall and moves over the tropical North Atlantic every 3-5 days at speeds of 22-55mph (10-25 meters per second). The air mass is 1-2 miles deep, exists in the lower troposphere, and can be as wide as the continental US. These air masses have significant moderating impacts on tropical cyclone intensity and formation because the dry, intense air can both deprive the storm of moisture and interfere with its convection by increasing the wind shear.

Many tropical cyclones form due to these larger scale atmospheric factors. Hurricanes that form fairly close in our basin are called Cape Verde hurricanes, named for the location where they are formed. Cape Verde origin hurricanes can be up to five per year, with an average of around two.

Why are Tropical Cyclones Always Worse on the Right Side?

If a hurricane is moving to the west, the right side would be to the north of the storm, if it is heading north, then the right side would be to the east of the storm. The movement of a hurricane can be broken into two parts- the spiral movement and its forward movement. If the hurricane is moving forward, the side of the spiral with winds parallel and facing forward in the direction of movement will go faster, because you are adding two velocities together. The side of the spiral parallel to the movement, but going in the opposite direction will be slower, because you must subtract the velocity moving away (backwards) from the forward velocity.

For example, a hurricane with 90mph winds moving at 10mph would have a 100mph wind speed on the right (forward-moving) side and 80 mph on the side with the backward motion.

How are Hurricanes Named?

During the 19th century, hurricane names were inspired by everything from saints to wives to unpopular politicians. In 1978, it was agreed that the National Hurricane Center would use alternating men and women’s names following the practice adopted by Australia’s bureau of Meteorology three years earlier in 1975.

Today, a list of potential names is published by the United Nations World Meteorological Organization for the Atlantic basin. These names extend into 2023, and the list repeats every seventh year. If a particularly damaging storm occurs, the name of that storm is retired. Storms retired in 2017 include Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. If there are more storms than names on the list in a given season, the National Hurricane Center will name them using the Greek alphabet. Lastly, if a storm happens to move across basins, it keeps the original name. The only time it is renamed if it dissipates to a tropical disturbance and reforms.