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NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory

The Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory’s 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

Kayelyn Simmons sits at the desk with three screens in front of her, she examines the one immediately right displaying a photomosaic on the screen with the variety of colors of the coral reef
Celebrating Black History Month:  Meet Oceanographer Kayelyn Simmons

In honor of Black History Month, NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) spoke with Oceanographer Kayelyn Simmons, PhD, about her role at AOML and what Black History Month means to her. Kayelyn is a federal oceanographer at AOML, leading benthic habitat characterization studies using 3D mapping with the Ocean Chemistry and Ecosystems Division. Her […]

Read More News

Two NOAA scientists deploy a large CTD into the ocean.
From Mississippi to Australia: 3 Research Cruises Depart to Improve Understanding of the Atlantic and Southern Ocean
Congratulations to AOML’s 2024 Department of Commerce Medal winners! AOML is proud to recognize the achievements of our outstanding scientists for their vital contributions to better understand the Earth systems and protecting our nation.
Department of Commerce Honor Awards 2024
Changes in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) and its transport of heat can affect climate and weather patterns, regional sea levels, and ecosystems. A new study led by Ivenis Pita, a University of Miami PhD student working at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory/ the Cooperative Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS), is the first to estimate the AMOC and heat transport at 22.5°S in the South Atlantic, demonstrating the importance of sustained in situ observations to monitor the state of the AMOC. 
New Mapping Method Uses Sustained Observations to Estimate AMOC at 22.5°S
Scientists and R/V Pelican crew members recover the second of two sediment traps from a depth of 600 meters from the sea surface.
A Collaborative Effort Investigates the Biological Carbon Pump, Deploying Sediment Traps Hundreds of Meters Below
Two NOAA scientists deploy a large CTD into the ocean.
Congratulations to AOML’s 2024 Department of Commerce Medal winners! AOML is proud to recognize the achievements of our outstanding scientists for their vital contributions to better understand the Earth systems and protecting our nation.
Changes in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) and its transport of heat can affect climate and weather patterns, regional sea levels, and ecosystems. A new study led by Ivenis Pita, a University of Miami PhD student working at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory/ the Cooperative Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS), is the first to estimate the AMOC and heat transport at 22.5°S in the South Atlantic, demonstrating the importance of sustained in situ observations to monitor the state of the AMOC. 
Scientists and R/V Pelican crew members recover the second of two sediment traps from a depth of 600 meters from the sea surface.
Congratulations to Lev Looney, a University of Miami graduate student working at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), for surpassing his 1,000th student through the Skype a Scientist program! 
Three scientists and ocean engineers in orange lifejackets keep the CTD steady as it leans with the boat in rough seas while the other scientist cleats the CTD with a long rope, we see big waves and the sunset below a sky of cloud
12 Days of AOML Research
John Cortinas, Uli Rivera, Francis Bringas, Molly Baringer standing together in front of American and NOAA flags.
ocean surface with waves and blue sky
NOAA Satelite image of hurricanes Franklin and Idalia near the Southeastern United States
On a beautiful calm day, the SeaTrac, a thin yellow vessel roughly the shape of a stand up paddleboard, glides aong the glassy waters of the Great Lakes, easily navigating the shallows with trees and jetties of rocks beyond it and a sea bordering the skies somewhere that we can barely define.
Aerial photo of coastline with trees, sandy beach, and ocean water

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.

Sargassum Research

Have you recently come across Sargassum and taken a picture? Maybe while you were at the beach or out on a boat. If you answered yes, you are encouraged to fill out NOAA’s citizen science Sargassum reporting form below to help scientists improve Sargassum monitoring and research.

Want to learn more about the large amount of Sargassum seaweed in the Atlantic Ocean? See NOAA’s frequently asked questions below.

What is Sargassum?

Sargassum is a type of floating brown algae, commonly called “seaweed.” These algae float at the sea surface, never attach to the sea floor, and they can aggregate to form large mats in the open ocean.

What research does NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory or other parts of NOAA currently conduct on Sargassum?

Researchers at NOAA’s AOML and NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite Data, Information Service (NESDIS), and the University of South Florida developed the experimental Sargassum Inundation Report (SIR) to provide an overview of the extent of Sargassum in the ocean and the risk of Sargassum washing into coastal waters, beaches, and shorelines in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and southeast Florida regions.

Research conducted at AOML in partnership with the University of Miami, the University of South Florida, and LGL Ecological Research (TX) is also aiding to identify how Sargassum extends across the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and tropical Atlantic, by assessing the role of ocean currents, winds, and waves in their motion.  This work includes field experiments conducted to monitor the actual path of Sargassum using satellite tracking devices and surface drifters and satellite imagery, and physical representation of Sargassum in theoretical and numerical simulations. Please refer to the end of this document for a list of scientific manuscripts derived from this research.

Additionally, a collaboration between researchers with AOML and Fearless Fund studies how seaweed, including Sargassum, naturally removes carbon dioxide from ocean waters and sequesters it in the seaweed. This project seeks to provide a management solution to wide-scale inundation of beaches, while also repurposing the Sargassum.

As part of NOAA’s RESTORE Science Program, NOAA Fisheries, University of Southern Mississippi, and University of South Florida are evaluating Sargassum‘s role as fish nursery habitat in the northern Gulf of Mexico. This project seeks to understand the relationship with Sargassum distribution and abundance and its capacity to serve as juvenile fish nurseries for recreationally and commercially important species. Results will be used to develop a forecast that can inform fisheries managers of changes in Sargassum and fish recruitment.

Scientists from the University of Rhode Island and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute are examining the societal impacts of Sargassum blooms in the Caribbean as part of a study funded by NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. The three-year long project assesses economic impacts, human well-being, and individual behaviors and perceptions associated with bloom events, as well as extensive engagement with community members and relevant stakeholders. Results from this study will aid local and regional coastal managers in managing Sargassum bloom and mitigation activities.

NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) is initiating a new study to detect and analyze chemical contaminants in Sargassum mats from Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, and Florida. Scientists will be looking for concentrations of trace metals, organic, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – many of which are highly persistent – in the samples. This research will provide managers with essential information to safely manage, dispose, repurpose or recycle Sargassum at local jurisdictions.

Further reading:

Tracking Sargassum Inundation Potential for Coastal Communities – NOAA/AOML

Chasing Sargassum: New Insights on Coastal Sargassum Invasions – NOAA/AOML

When might we see significant Sargassum inundation in Florida from the large mat in the Atlantic Ocean (March 2023)?

The motion, extent, and density of Sargassum is very complex – it grows, sinks, and moves according to ocean currents, winds, and waves. Therefore, sometimes it may not be possible to describe trajectories in advance, but rather a general description of how the average extension and density have changed.  Projecting an accurate path of Sargassum is challenging and a current area of intense research.  At this moment, the timing of Sargassum beaching cannot be predicted.

There are two main sources of Sargassum located in the Gulf of Mexico, one is local and peaks in April-May, and the second one is the Caribbean Sea which peaks during the summer months. Large amounts of Sargassum are currently located in the Caribbean Sea, moving towards the Yucatan Peninsula, and spreading through the Gulf of Mexico by the Loop Current.

The Loop Current flows through the Florida Straits and off the east Florida coast, where it is known as the Florida Current, and into the Gulf Stream as it heads north up the eastern coast of the US.  The very strong Loop Current is now transporting moderate amounts of Sargassum that were previously located in the Caribbean Sea, with larger amounts potentially on the way. Some of the Sargassum in the Gulf of Mexico also originated locally. Whether the Sargassum will beach on the coast of Florida, including the Florida Keys, will largely depend on the local wind, wave, and tide conditions. Given the complexity of its motion, growth, and decay, it is not possible to forecast the timing of beaching.  However, given the size and number of the current Sargassum patches, there is a strong chance that Sargassum carried by the Florida Current may reach the Florida coast despite wind and wave conditions. As of mid March 2023, satellite observations indicate that some of this Sargassum has already reached the northern coast of Cuba.

SIR Gulf of Mexico (March 7-13, 2023)

SIR Caribbean Sea (March 7-13, 2023)

Maps showing Sargassum patches as derived from satellite images and reported weekly through the AOML experimental Sargassum Inundation Reports (link)

Sargassum patch. GO- SHIP cruise 2023

Featured Publication

State of the Climate in 2021

Blunden, J. and T. Boyer, Eds., 2022: “State of the Climate in 2021”. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 1038), Si–S465, https://doi.org/10.1175/2022BAMSStateoftheClimate.1

In 2021, the dominant greenhouse gases released into Earth’s atmosphere continued to increase. The annual global average carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration was 414.7 ± 0.1 ppm, an increase of 2.6 ± 0.1 ppm over 2020, the fifth-highest growth rate since the start of the instrumental record in 1958. This brings the concentration of CO2 to, once again, the highest in the modern record and ice core records dating back 800,000 years. The growth rate for methane (CH4) was the highest on record and the third highest for nitrous oxide (N2O), contributing to new record high atmospheric concentration levels for both gases….

Chapter 3 “Global Oceans” was co-edited by Rick Lumpkin, the Director of AOML’s Physical Oceanography Division, and Greg Johnson (NOAA). AOML authors are Francis Bringas, Shenfu Dong, Gustavo Goni, Rick Lumpkin, Renellys Perez, Claudia Schmid, Denis Volkov, and Rik Wanninkhof. Chapter 4 “Tropics” was edited by Howard Diamond (NOAA) and Carl Schreck (NC State), with AOML authors Stanley Goldenberg, Gustavo Goni, and Francis Bringas contributing to the chapter.

Download Full Report.

First page of the State of the Climate Report 2021
First page of the State of the Climate Report 2021

Blunden, J. and T. Boyer, Eds., 2022: “State of the Climate in 2021”. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 1038), Si–S465, https://doi.org/10.1175/2022BAMSStateoftheClimate.1

In 2021, the dominant greenhouse gases released into Earth’s atmosphere continued to increase. The annual global average carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration was 414.7 ± 0.1 ppm, an increase of 2.6 ± 0.1 ppm over 2020, the fifth-highest growth rate since the start of the instrumental record in 1958. This brings the concentration of CO2 to, once again, the highest in the modern record and ice core records dating back 800,000 years. The growth rate for methane (CH4) was the highest on record and the third highest for nitrous oxide (N2O), contributing to new record high atmospheric concentration levels for both gases….

Chapter 3 “Global Oceans” was co-edited by Rick Lumpkin, the Director of AOML’s Physical Oceanography Division, and Greg Johnson (NOAA). AOML authors are Francis Bringas, Shenfu Dong, Gustavo Goni, Rick Lumpkin, Renellys Perez, Claudia Schmid, Denis Volkov, and Rik Wanninkhof. Chapter 4 “Tropics” was edited by Howard Diamond (NOAA) and Carl Schreck (NC State), with AOML authors Stanley Goldenberg, Gustavo Goni, and Francis Bringas contributing to the chapter.

Download 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?

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

For more info click here.

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.

For more info click here.

What Causes Tropical Cyclones?

The tropical atmosphere is often unstable.  The amount of energy accumulated in the lower layers though the evaporation of water eventually overcomes any stable cap.  This allows clusters of thunderstorms to form.  These clusters move along with the prevailing winds as tropical disturbances.  Occasionally, cyclonic circulations will develop within these disturbances.  These circulations can be amplified and the disturbance will form a tropical cyclone.  Only about 10% of disturbances become tropical cyclones, so large-scale influences impinging on such disturbances play a big role in cyclone formation.

For more info click here.

Why are Tropical Cyclone Winds Usually Stronger on One Side?

A hurricane is usually a symmetrical spiral.  But if it is moving forward, then this motion makes the wind field asymmetrical.  The side of the spiral with winds blowing in the direction of movement will add the forward speed to the wind speed. The side of the spiral with the wind blowing in the opposite direction will be subtract the forward speed from the wind speed.

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

For more info click here.

How are Hurricanes Named?

Names are assigned to organized tropical cyclones once their winds exceed 39 mph (17.5 m/s, 34 knots).  The names are drawn from a list that is created prior to the season by the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization.  Each tropical cyclone basin has its own name list, which is maintained by a WMO Regional Committee. If a particularly damaging storm occurs, the name of that storm can be retired.  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 then reforms.

For more info click here.