WHOI scientists are exploring an experimental technique to track the complex movements of water in the oceans using harmless fluorescent dyes and airplanes equipped with Light Detection and Ranging instruments. To detect motion, LIDAR uses pulses of laser light, which cause the flowing dye to fluoresce, even underwater. (Illustration by Jack Cook, WHOI)
Gene Terray (left), research specialist in the Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering (AOPE) Department, and Miles Sundermeyer, guest investigator in AOPE, recently experimented with airborne lasers as a tool for studying the vertical and horizontal movement of water masses in the ocean. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, WHOI)
WHOI Summer Student Fellow Sandeep Bohra (from the University of Minnesota) holds a dye injection line over the fantail of R/V Stephan as the WHOI-led research team poured harmless Rhodamine WT dye into the ocean about 10 kilometers (6 miles) southeast of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. WHOI Research Specialist Gene Terray stands in the foreground. (Courtesy of Miles Sundermeyer, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth)
Passengers aboard an U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plane spotted the trail of dye in the Atlantic Ocean as they approached with their airborne LIDAR instruments. The pilot needed to be able to see the dye streak from R/V Stephan from several miles away in order to properly align the flight path.
Data collected by the LIDAR instruments on north-south flights show the dispersion of the rhodamine dye on the surface over time by currents in the ocean. The dots represent the intensity of the fluorescing light emitted by the dye in the water after being pulsed by the laser, revealing stronger and weaker concentrations of dye.