Armed with New Antenna, Mason Scientists Prepare for Busy Hurricane Season

Posted: May 31, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lori Jennings

With the prospect of another intense hurricane season just days away, researchers with Mason’s severe weather team are gearing up to study these powerful storms.

This season, however, the scientists will use satellite data acquired with a new antenna that provides high-resolution, real-time data to more accurately track and predict where hurricanes will make landfall.

Mason’s Center for Earth Observing and Space Research (CEOSR) purchased the antenna, which will be used for research spearheaded by School of Computational Sciences Dean Menas Kafatos and researchers Guido Cervone, Zafer Boybeyi and Donglian Sun.

“We are currently in a natural, multidecadal cycle in tropical climate patterns near the equator,” says Kafatos. “This situation produces weak wind shear and warmer ocean waters across the tropical Atlantic region. When coupled with winds coming off the west coast of Africa, this scenario provides favorable environmental conditions for active hurricane seasons.”

“All current signs point to an active 2006 hurricane season, with more likely to follow over the next few years,” says Kafatos. “Our new technology will arm us with the ability to receive real-time data on these storms, so we can better understand their causes and patterns.”

In particular, the higher resolution data will allow the team to study hurricanes with a resolution of one kilometer — much higher than previous images that had a resolution of 25 kilometers.

The antenna will continually monitor five National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites orbiting Earth, producing data that typically covers the area from northern Canada to northern Mexico. The researchers also will be able to observe hurricanes forming in the North Atlantic.

The antenna will provide researchers with key data related to, among other variables, sea surface temperature and atmospheric water vapor, factors that are important indicators of a hurricane’s intensity and predicted path.

The data collected will be reprocessed and fed into a combination of computer models that will provide researchers a flexible grid structure to study the area around a hurricane with a higher resolution than areas further out.

“The satellite data will significantly improve our ability to track, in real time, a hurricane’s progress,” says Cervone.

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