Understanding Ocean Turbulence With the Help of Drones
Without turbulence, the Earth’s oceans and climate would be dramatically different. Ocean turbulence brings nutrients to the surface so plankton can grow. It also transfers heat and carbon into and out of the ocean, and controls how long heat, carbon and nutrients stay in deep ocean reservoirs. Marine ecosystems, weather and longer-term climate variations are all critically dependent on ocean turbulence and its mixing rates and mechanisms.
Dr. Stephanie Waterman, Canada Research Chair in Physical Oceanography, aims to better understand ocean turbulence and the mixing it generates by answering key questions such as: How is turbulence generated? How quickly does it mix ocean properties? What is the best way to characterize and understand its time and space variability?
In the innovative research approach used by Waterman and her research team, underwater drones equipped with specialized turbulence-sensing instrumentation provide the observations they need to produce statistical characterizations of ocean turbulence. These drones also make remote locations more accessible at a fraction of the cost of traditional observation platforms.
Understanding ocean turbulence and its impacts on the ocean state are critical to our understanding of how the oceans work and to improving ocean circulation models. Because these models cannot resolve turbulent scales, understanding the effects of turbulence depends on awareness of the physical processes involved. Waterman’s findings could help ensure more robust predictions of future climate changes.