Remotely-piloted Sailboats to Monitor Atmospheric Cold Pools

The world’s tropical oceans can influence weather patterns both at local and global scales. Typical examples are El Niño, La Niña, typhoons, hurricanes, and marine heatwaves like the “Blob”. But, scientists strongly believe several critical elements of the tropical climate remain undiscovered.

A study was recently published in Geophysical Research Letters; the scientists from the University of Washington and NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory collected data on cold air pools (pockets of cooler air) which form below tropical storm clouds. They used remotely-piloted sailboats (uncrewed surface vehicles – USVs) for it.

Atmospheric cold pools that appear over the tropical oceans produce massive changes in both air temperature and wind speed. When rain evaporates below thunderstorm clouds, the formation of pockets of cooler air occurs. It is known that a phenomenon that leads to downdrafts involves relatively dense air masses, ranging between 6 to 125 miles (10 to 200 kilometres). Upon touching the ocean surface, the downdrafts produce temperature fronts and strong winds that influence their surroundings. However, it is pretty unclear how they affect the large atmospheric circulation. Scientists are looking at understanding the role of cold pools in tropical convection. For this, they need detailed measurements of the events. It is believed that USVs can facilitate exploration.

The lead author Samantha Wills reiterated that atmospheric cold pools are a vital source of variability in surface temperature, moisture, and wind over the ocean. Wills further stated that results from previous studies highlight how cold pools are critical for triggering and organizing storm activity over tropical ocean regions.

The paper includes observations of air temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind speed, and more during cold pool events. The authors use the data to understand and describe these phenomena. The focus is on how much and how quickly air temperatures drop. Plus, they are looking at how long it takes the wind to reach peak speeds and how sea surface temperature changes nearby. Furthermore, the results can help to evaluate mathematical models of tropical convection and explore more unexplored areas.

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