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Hurricane Symbol Storm Special! View the latest observations near East Pacific Hurricane Howard.

NDBC Deploys First Operational Wave Glider to Monitor Weather

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) in Mississippi deployed the National Weather Service's (NWS) first operational Wave Glider on April 13, 2011 to monitor real-time atmospheric conditions in the Gulf of Mexico. The Wave Glider is unique because it can convert surface wave energy into a forward thrust, which can be remotely controlled to keep the station at critical marine locations. A weather station has been built into the Wave Glider - thus the entire system can generally mimic a large 3-meter moored buoy without the need for expensive ship time, mooring line and servicing/refurbishing.

First NDBC Wave Glider is underway
Photo Caption: Wave Glider "NDBC_1" collecting operational weather observations in the Gulf of Mexico. Photographer: Frank Lodato/National Data Buoy Center

Helmut Portmann, NDBC's Director, used his years of experience with the U.S. Navy's unmanned systems program to help NOAA's moored buoy programs become more responsive to operational requirements. "I saw the possibilities to revolutionize the way NDBC conducts business." says Portmann. "With the launch of NDBC_1 (the first Wave Glider) we will be able to support our NWS forecasters, as well as the National Hurricane Center (NHC) to obtain more observations in critical locations while decreasing the costs of observations. NDBC will use this system, and other gliders to soon follow, to directly support the NWS's Decision Makers and influence the decision support services process, thereby saving lives."

NDBC is also outfitting a second Wave Glider (NDBC_2) with an acoustic modem to obtain real-time tsunami observations in the Gulf of Mexico. Since the deployment of a 39 moored buoy network of bottom tsunami pressure recorders and surface moored communication buoys, NDBC has had numerous difficulties maintaining operational stations in the Gulf of Mexico. Portmann describes the undertaking, "NDBC_2 will be deployed in the Gulf of Mexico to become the world's first operational unmanned surface vehicle-based tsunameter. Once we collect metrics on data availability from NDBC_2, we will aggressively move forward to replace other stations with Wave Gliders to ensure the U.S. coastline receives advanced warnings from impending tsunamis. NDBC is pursuing these new technologies to identify more efficient ways to conduct ocean observations and achieve savings."

Wave Glider Pilot
Photo Caption: Wave Glider Pilot ENS Michael Robbie, NOAA Corps Officer, monitoring the deployment of "NDBC_1" in the NDBC Mission Control Center. Photographer: Stuart Hayes/National Data Buoy Center

NDBC, an operational center within the NWS, is dedicated to enhancing maritime safety, coastline inundation and numerical weather prediction through the real-time collection of weather, tsunami and climate-related observations. Using mission control technologies and advanced information service delivery, NDBC provides for transportation and environmental stewardship to support the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NDBC is working with other Federal partners; more than 40 universities, private and public partners; and the international marine community to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.