[Print page] [E-mail page]

font size: Change text to small (default) Change text to medium Change text to large


 On this page:
-What is it and why do we use it?
-How does it work?
-What platforms are needed?
-Advantages and limitations?
RAFOS Float: Schematic
Enlarge Image
RAFOS floats are designed to take measurements of temperature, salinity, and pressure in layers of ocean water one to three thousand meters below the surface. Full description
RAFOS Float in Action
Enlarge Image
RAFOS FLOAT IN ACTION - RAFOS floats are deployed using one of two methods. Full description
RAFOS Floats in the Mediterranean
Enlarge Image
RAFOS FLOATS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN - The trajectories of four different floats are shown in the formation of Mediterranean eddies, also known as "meddies" off the southwestern corner of the Iberian Peninsula. Full description (Illustration by Jayne Doucette, WHOI )
Related Multimedia

RAFOS float photo galleryRAFOS Photo Gallery

» View Slideshow

RAFOS float

RAFOS Float Video
Watch how the floats are deployed and launched from a vessel
» View Video (Media Player)


Sound Source Video
See how scientists and technicians prepare for deployment
» View Video (Media Player)

Related Links
» NOAA Vent Programs Physical Oceanography
Outlines the use of RAFOS floats in understanding the transport of hydrothermal vent fluids
» Amy Bower's Research at WHOI
Read about her research projects and link to publications
» Webb Research Corporation
Designs and manufactures scientific instruments for oceanographic research and monitoring
» Physical Oceanography II: Processes and Observing Systems
German research conducted using RAFOS.
» University of Rhode Island and RAFOS
RAFOS Float Group Home Page
» RAFOS Float Processing at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
RAFOS Users Forum and Float Processing
What is it and why do we use it?
The name RAFOS is the word SOFAR spelled backwards. SOFAR is an acronym for SOund Fixing And Ranging, which refers to the way these floats track the motion of water in the ocean. In large numbers, the floats can be used to map the mean currents over a wide area, and for statistical studies of dispersion and mixing. The acoustic tracking provides relatively high-resolution trajectories (with position fixes several times each day). This can be especially valuable in studies of eddies and boundary currents.

Some RAFOS floats are also called Deep Lagrangian Drifters, or DLDs.

How does it work?
A drifting RAFOS float listens and records sound signals from stationary acoustic beacons. At the end of their pre-programmed mission, the floats drop their ballast weights, rise to the surface, and beam their data to orbiting satellites.

A RAFOS float weighs about 22 pounds (10 kilograms) and can be dropped over the side of a small boat by one person, although they are most commonly deployed from large oceanographic research vessels. The float's electronics are housed in a 6 and a half foot (two meter) glass tube. After assembly, the float is placed in a tank that can replicate the pressure of a given depth and is then ballasted with stainless steel weights that are attached at the bottom of the float.

A float's mission can be up to two years in duration. At the end of its mission, a pre-programmed command from the float's microprocessor releases the float's ballast weight. The float rises to the sea surface and beams the stored acoustic tracking data to two satellites, which pass the information to ground receiving stations, which then send it over the Internet to researchers' computers.

RAFOS floats can carry multiple sensors for measuring ocean properties, including pressure, temperature, and dissolved oxygen. They can be made "isopycnal", or density-following, so that they more accurately follow water parcels in regions where density surfaces are steeply sloped.

The predecessor to the RAFOS float, the SOFAR float (no longer used in large numbers but sometimes for special applications), made low-frequency signals periodically, and the signals were heard and recorded by moored listening stations. The backwards spelling of RAFOS refers to the reversed pathway of the sound in tracking these floats. In this case, the moored instruments make the sound, and the drifting floats listen and record the signals.

What platforms are needed?
The moored sound beacons used for tracking the RAFOS floats are usually deployed from oceanographic research vessels by trained mooring technicians. A special version of the float can be temporarily anchored to the ocean floor, and released from the anchor at a pre-set time. This allows for deployment in remote locations and at various times without the need for a research or other vessel.

Advantages and limitations?
The acoustic tracking provides high-resolution trajectories that are particularly valuable for resolving eddy motions and narrow boundary currents. As with other floats, Lagrangian instruments are useful for mapping currents over a large spatial area since they tend to spread out after deployment.

One disadvantage is that the scientist must wait until the end of the float mission, up to two years, for the data to be available. This is balanced by the advantage that by staying submerged, the floats can closely follow the motions of water particles for extended periods of time.

A Mediterranean Undercurrent Seeding Experiment (AMUSE): Part I I : RAFOS Float Data Report May 1993 - March 1995 by Heather D. Hunt, Christine M. Wooding, Cynthia L. Chandler, and Amy S. Bower