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Research Project hopes to answer Global Climate Questions

April 6, 2007

Karinna Sjo-Gaber
Joint Oceanographic Institutions

Joanne Tromp
WHOI Media Relations

The impacts of natural climate variability and the threat of anthropogenic climate change are issues that are increasingly being brought to public attention.  There is growing interest among the science community to forecast not just the local weather, but also the global climate to answer crucial questions about Earth’s environment.  To do this, researchers need to determine how much of climate variability is predictable and then develop systems that can make reliable projections.

To help scientists speak to the issue of climate change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Climate Observation, has funded Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) to run a project called Northwest Tropical Atlantic Station (NTAS).  The NTAS initiative has enabled WHOI to maintain a fully instrumented surface mooring on site at 15°N, 51°W since March 2001.  The mooring collects quality controlled surface meteorological and oceanographic data at a location in the northwest tropical Atlantic Ocean where strong sea surface temperature anomalies are found and the likelihood of significant local air-sea interaction on climate time scales is high.

Due to battery power limitations, data storage limitations and sensor degradation scientists need to recover the mooring located 500 miles east of Barbados to replace it with a new one each year.  On April 14th Dr. Al Plueddemann, an associate scientist with WHOI, will take a team of oceanographers to recover and replace the mooring.  During this two-week expedition, his crew will also be servicing two National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) buoys, which are part of NOAA’s National Weather Service.  Hourly observations from a network of 90 NDBC ocean buoys and 60 coastal stations are critical to predicting weather and administering hurricane and extreme storm warnings.

NOAA, WHOI and Dr. Plueddemann all share an interest in science outreach and education.  In partnership with the Joint Oceanographic Institutions (JOI), the NTAS expedition will bring the seagoing experience to educators and classrooms in real time.  Karinna Sjo-Gaber and Jessica Sharoff, two JOI Program Assistants, will participate in the expedition to assist with research but also to act as education and outreach specialists.  They have created a website called MISSION 15 51 which aims to attract teachers, students and the interested public to learn more about this innovative ocean research.  The website includes many interactive features which will provide a rare glimpse into life at sea.

The NTAS experiment is supported through the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Ocean Research (CICOR), a partnership between the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The NOAA Office of Climate Observation provides principal funding.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds the Joint Oceanographic Institutions Program Assistant Program.