Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How Strong Is That Hurricane? Just Listen

Date:
April 10, 2008
Source:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Summary:
Knowing how powerful a hurricane is, before it hits land, can help to save lives or to avoid the enormous costs of an unnecessary evacuation. So far, there's only one surefire way of measuring the strength of a hurricane: Sending airplanes to fly right through the most intense winds and into the eye of the storm, carrying out wind-speed measurements as they go. Researchers think there may be a better, cheaper way of determining how powerful a hurricane is. The technique involves listening for the storms with acoustic sensors.

NOAA hurricane hunter WP-3D Orion and Gulfstream IV aircraft in flight. So far, wind measurements taken from airplanes flying through intense hurricane winds are the only surefire way to accurately assess the strength of a hurricane.
Credit: NOAA

Knowing how powerful a hurricane is, before it hits land, can help to save lives or to avoid the enormous costs of an unnecessary evacuation. Some MIT researchers think there may be a better, cheaper way of getting that crucial information.

So far, there's only one surefire way of measuring the strength of a hurricane: Sending airplanes to fly right through the most intense winds and into the eye of the storm, carrying out wind-speed measurements as they go.

That's an expensive approach--the specialized planes used for hurricane monitoring cost about $100 million each, and a single flight costs about $50,000. Monitoring one approaching hurricane can easily require a dozen such flights, and so only storms that are approaching U.S. shores get such monitoring, even though the strongest storms occur in the Pacific basin (where they are known as tropical cyclones).

Nicholas Makris, associate professor of mechanical and ocean engineering and director of MIT's Laboratory for Undersea Remote Sensing, thinks there may be a better way. By placing hydrophones (underwater microphones) deep below the surface in the path of an oncoming hurricane, it's possible to measure wind power as a function of the intensity of the sound. The roiling action of the wind, churning up waves and turning the water into a bubble-filled froth, causes a rushing sound whose volume is a direct indicator of the storm's destructive power.

Makris has been doing theoretical work analyzing this potential method for years, triggered by a conversation he had with MIT professor and hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel. But now he has found the first piece of direct data that confirms his calculations. In a paper accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, Makris and his former graduate student Joshua Wilson show that Hurricane Gert, in 1999, happened to pass nearly over a hydrophone anchored at 800 meters depth above the mid-Atlantic Ridge at about the latitude of Puerto Rico, and the same storm was monitored by airplanes within the next 24 hours.

The case produced exactly the results that had been predicted, providing the first experimental validation of the method, Makris says. "There was almost a perfect relationship between the power of the wind and the power of the wind-generated noise," he says. There was less than 5 percent error--about the same as the errors you get from aircraft measurements.

Satellite monitoring is good at showing the track of a hurricane, Makris says, but not as reliable as aircraft in determining destructive power.

The current warning systems are estimated to save $2.5 billion a year in the United States, and improved systems could save even more, he says. And since many parts of the world that are subject to devastating cyclones cannot afford the cost of hurricane-monitoring aircraft, the potential for saving lives and preventing devastating damage is even greater elsewhere.

"You need to know, do you evacuate or not?" Makris explains. "Both ways, if you get it wrong, there can be big problems."

To that end, Makris has been collaborating with the Mexican Navy's Directorate of Oceanography, Hydrography and Meteorology, using a meteorological station on the island of Socorro, off Mexico's west coast. The island lies in one of the world's most hurricane-prone areas--an average of three cyclones pass over or near the island every year. The team installed a hydrophone in waters close to the island and are waiting for a storm to come by and provide further validation of the technique.

Makris and Wilson estimate that when there's a hurricane on its way toward shore, a line of acoustic sensors could be dropped from a small plane into the ocean ahead of the storm's path, while conditions are still safe, and could then provide detailed information on the storm's strength to aid in planning and decision-making about possible evacuations. The total cost for such a deployment would be a small fraction of the cost of even a single flight into the storm, they figure.

In addition, permanent lines of such sensors could be deployed offshore in storm-prone areas, such as the Sea of Bengal off India and Bangladesh. And such undersea monitors could have additional benefits besides warning of coming storms.

The hydrophones could be a very effective way of monitoring the amount of sea salt entering the atmosphere as a result of the churning of ocean waves. This sea salt, it turns out, has a major impact on global climate because it scatters solar radiation that regulates the formation of clouds. Direct measurements of this process could help climate modelers to make more accurate estimates of its effects.

The research has been supported by the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research, ONR Global-Americas, MIT Sea Grant and the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "How Strong Is That Hurricane? Just Listen." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 April 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080410115330.htm>.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2008, April 10). How Strong Is That Hurricane? Just Listen. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080410115330.htm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "How Strong Is That Hurricane? Just Listen." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080410115330.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Powerful Hurricane Gonzalo Heads to Bermuda

Raw: Powerful Hurricane Gonzalo Heads to Bermuda

AP (Oct. 17, 2014) Hurricane Gonzalo pounded Bermuda with wind and heavy surf on Friday, bearing down on the tiny British territory as a powerful Category 3 storm that could raise coastal seas as much as 10 feet. (Oct. 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

Newsy (Oct. 16, 2014) Researchers believe an extinct kangaroo species weighed 500 pounds or more and couldn't hop. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hurricane Gonzalo Is A Category 4 And Heading To Bermuda

Hurricane Gonzalo Is A Category 4 And Heading To Bermuda

Newsy (Oct. 16, 2014) Powerful hurricane could hit Bermuda this weekend, and even if it misses it will likely do some damage. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Largest Volcano In Centuries Is Spewing Toxic Gas

The Largest Volcano In Centuries Is Spewing Toxic Gas

Newsy (Oct. 16, 2014) One of the largest volcanic eruptions in centuries is occurring on Iceland. The volcano Bardarbunga is producing high levels of sulfur dioxide. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins