HomeNewsArticle Display

US Naval Academy tests waters with Hurricane Hunters

U.S. Navy Midshipman Suwen Jordan Sun helps read data for the Navy Airborne Expendable Bathythermographs deployed from the WC-130J Hercules during an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter mission from the Air Dominance Center, Savannah, Ga., Sept. 12, 2018. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, or Hurricane Hunters, provides critical and timely weather data for the National Hurricane Center to assist in providing up-to-date and accurate information for storm forecasts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Chris Hibben)

Suwen Jordan Sun, U.S. Naval Academy midshipman, reads data for the Navy Airborne Expendable Bathythermographs deployed from the WC-130J Hercules during an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter mission from the Air Dominance Center, Savannah, Ga., Sept. 12, 2018. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, or Hurricane Hunters, provides critical and timely weather data for the National Hurricane Center to assist in providing up-to-date and accurate information for storm forecasts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Chris Hibben)

U.S. Air Force Reserve Master Sgt. Tom Barnaby, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron loadmaster, prepares Airborne Expendable Bathythermographs  for a mission into Hurricane Florence Sept. 12, 2018. The buoys are released from a flare launch tube during flight to measure oceanic conditions, which provides information for forecasts. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Chris Hibben)

Master Sgt. Tom Barnaby, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron loadmaster, prepares Airborne Expendable Bathythermographs for a mission into Hurricane Florence Sept. 12, 2018. The buoys, which are released from a flare launch tube during flight, measure oceanic conditions, which provides information for forecasts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Chris Hibben)

AIR DOMINANCE CENTER, Ga. (AFNS) -- When the subject of summer internships comes up, thoughts of fetching coffee and doing paperwork or answering phone calls come to mind.

What does not come to mind is working 10,000 feet in the air in an Air Force Reserve WC-130J Hercules flying through a hurricane for the sake of research.

For the oceanography department at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, this has been the in-a-nutshell description of one of their summer research programs since 2011.

Navy Captain (Dr.) Beth Sanabia, an oceanography professor at USNA, leads a team of midshipmen in TROPIC, the Training and Research in Oceanic and Atmospheric Processes in Tropical Cyclones Program, during the months of July and August.

TROPIC teams up with the 403rd Wing's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, also known as the Hurricane Hunters, out of Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, where the mishipmen accompany the Hurricane Hunters into all manner of tropical disturbances in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Sanabia said.

Their purpose: to research ocean conditions beneath the same storms in which the 53rd WRS collects atmospheric data. Buoys released during the flights called Airborne Expendable Bathythermographs measure a number of oceanic conditions anywhere from 400 to 1,000 meters in front of, directly under, and behind a tropical system.

The AXBTs are dropped fairly evenly spaced throughout a storm through the flare launch tube located in the back of the aircraft, said Sanabia. From 10,000 feet it takes about two minutes for the buoys to parachute down to the surface of the water. Upon reaching the surface, the saltwater activates the battery inside the buoy where a copper wire with a weight attached unfurls and begins a simultaneous descent and data collection. The data is sent via radio signals back to a computer on the plane where it is processed and readied for transmission to the Naval Oceanographic Office and National Data Buoy Center, who send it out to be absorbed by forecasting models.

Though the program's normal months of operation are July and August, major storms like Hurricane Florence bring the midshipmen back for an extra research opportunity.

"For Florence, the team is using AXBTs measuring the ocean's temperature to 400 meters and a new buoy called an ALAMO, or Air-Launched Autonomous Micro Observer," said Sanabia. "These profiling floats measure temperature, salinity, and pressure in the ocean and can take hundreds of profiles over days and weeks. The floats are very useful because they can give information every few hours about the ocean conditions ahead of, during, and after the storm. They not only improve the initial conditions which help current hurricane forecasts, they help scientists understand the physical processes going on in the ocean so they can make the models better."

In recent years, the program has been augmented by Navy officers enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute master's program and senior scientist at WHOI, Dr. Steven Jayne. Students from USNA and MIT/WHOI conduct physical oceanography research related to hurricanes.

The students participating in TROPIC are expected to use the data as a basis for a large research paper at the end of the year. This year, Sanabia said they are using the data collected from the program's eight seasons to compare the measurements taken during tropical disturbance activity to average conditions.

"I've picked up a lot and learned a lot of things really quickly, and I feel like it has been a valuable experience for me," said USNA Midshipman Sowen J. Sun, who is an oceanography major and has flown in Hurricanes Hector and Florence with TROPIC this year. "I feel like I'm actually doing something that impacts not only what we research but other people as well. Data we send goes to NOAA and all of these other organizations and helps better predict hurricanes, and I think that's very important to not only us but people that live along the eastern seaboard and in the Pacific as well."

Sanabia noted that the way the Naval Academy looks at field research is that it is important to research something with the goal of finding a solution; thus, collecting data from waters under and around a storm is critical to both the present and future accuracy of hurricane forecasting.

"We have a great relationship with the 53rd," said Sanabia, who first flew with the squadron in 2008 while working toward her PhD. "The crews are flexible working with the midshipmen, so we are just really grateful to be a part of this."

Engage

Facebook Twitter
#MentorMonday: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mu… https://t.co/PjGcBMVliB
Our partnerships and @NATO allies help keep our mission moving forward. https://t.co/5R4ZB7XqXs
$40M up for grabs! Find out how your small business can make some cash while helping solve some of the #USAF's toug… https://t.co/0AEmZhZGdI
RT @SecAFOfficial: Happy birthday 🎉 to #USAF Col & #space pioneer Buzz Aldrin @TheRealBuzz ✈️🚀 https://t.co/gIsicyA1uk
#Innovation! First metallic #3Dprinted part installed on an operational #F22 Raptor @HAFB. The new part will not co… https://t.co/rkKr1jtThg
Practice makes perfect! These #SpecOps medical experts maintain readiness & relevance for all operations, today and… https://t.co/WMpdt9LTGe
Remembering a woman who changed the world: Millicent Young, Women #AirForce Service Pilot in World War II, dies at… https://t.co/mri1QRXOC8
From fast food to future technology, one #Airman found a new calling @AirNatlGuard and decided to ditch the fryer f… https://t.co/I8qX7GpH4n
An #F35 sits on the flightline @LukeAFB, Jan. 10. Six different aircraft maintenance units from #TeamLuke competed… https://t.co/OxVMxf7Ayw
It takes a lot of coordination to clear a flightline of snow, but @TeamMisawa--a place that averaged more than 147… https://t.co/VQ4qjdsxFz
RT @SecAFOfficial: It is our responsibility to maintain a strong national defense @usairforce https://t.co/JXzhtqdMrg
When lives are on the line, there is no margin for error. Combat Search & Rescue #Airmen at #MoodyAFB conduct pre-d… https://t.co/AsWzaa1I00
RT @AFResearchLab: When a product goes from lab to battlefield, you can expect some amazing capabilities. See what work we've done to assis…
A B-2 Spirit bomber from @Whiteman_AFB, conducts aerial refueling near @JointBasePHH, during an interoperability tr… https://t.co/wzM5GvcviS
The #AirForce Life Cycle Management Center team is working to acquire next generation fixed-wing helmet.… https://t.co/LJ2xeCLdf2
Capt Jerry Yellin, #WWII fighter pilot who flew the last combat mission in August 1945, was laid to rest… https://t.co/XnSB9Yo3PC
75 years of @WrightPattAFB! Take a walk down memory lane with the leaders in military aviation development. https://t.co/vmjwxLUydg
C-5M #SuperGalaxy aircrew & aerial port specialists @Travis60AMW join the @USArmy to transport four UH-60… https://t.co/kTxdf9axY5
RT @SecAFOfficial: Why do we care about #space? It's contested. It's congested. It's competitive. https://t.co/DJZBjF2NHu
To continue the military’s strides to become a more cohesive force, @MacDill_AFB hosted its first #Joint #PME enhan… https://t.co/K56KEUVnIb