From: Steve Williams, Care2, More from this Affiliate
Published May 29, 2014 08:20 AM

How Sharks Could Help Predict Hurricanes

Scientists have embarked on a remarkable new project to use shark and large marine predators as biological sensors in the hopes that they could help us predict the formation and course of potentially dangerous hurricanes.

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Researchers from the University of Miami have tagged a total of 750 marine animals in the past ten years, all to track the temperature and salinity of sea waters at different depths. Earlier this year though, the researchers noticed something special about the data — the tagged marine life gravitated toward water that was about 79 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, which is the temperature at which hurricanes form.

Hurricane strength largely depends on how much warm water it has access to. In very simple terms, the hotter the water, the stronger the storm can become.

The tagged marine life, by gravitating to these waters, can help scientists get an overview of sea temperatures as we go into hurricane season, particularly because the tagged animals (scientists are currently monitoring about 50 sharks, tuna, tarpon and billfish) all dive. That means that when they later surface and trigger the tag to relay data via satellites back to the team, the scientists receive a "vertical picture" of what sea temperatures look like.

With that vertical picture, the scientists can work out an overall figure. This is known as the Ocean Heat Content or OHC, a figure used to estimate the strength and severity of a hurricane as it forms. The more accurate that data, the better the estimate is. Given that the marine animals are on the front lines, as it were, the data they can gather is extremely valuable when the difference in a couple of degrees can predict the difference between a tropical storm and potentially dangerous hurricane.

The breadth of the area that the marine life can cover may also help scientists. "We've had fish move from Veracruz, Mexico, to the mouth of the Mississippi River in 30 days. Plus, they go back and forth, it's not a straight route, you could get tens of millions of data records," marine biologist Jerald Ault is quoted as saying.

The scientists believe that if they increase the number of tags, they could potentially generate millions of data points, and with that data finesse a system that could monitor storms as they form and the paths they take with a detail that until now has been impossible.

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Care2.

Shark image via Shutterstock.

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