A new collaboration between Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego and the Icelandic Coast Guard (ICG) has set out to study of the extreme ocean surface conditions that characterize the waters off Iceland’s coast.
Scripps physical oceanographer Eric Terrill said he and other Scripps scientists first approached Icelandic officials with the concept of deploying a suite of marine instruments because of the unique ocean conditions that are found there – primarily the locale’s extreme winter weather and rough seas.
“Measuring the waves that form from high winds can be a challenge due to the difficulty of being at the right place and right time,” Terrill said. “In analyzing the statistics of the global wave climate, it became clear that Icelandic waters are an ideal natural laboratory for studying extreme conditions as conditions in excess of sea state 7 are the norm during the winter.”
Rough seas of sea state 7 (regular wave heights between six and nine meters , or 20 to 30 feet) or greater are common around Iceland due to shifting winds moving across the high latitudes, and the waves encountering variable currents.
Setting out to study these extreme conditions, the Scripps scientists and the Icelandic Coast Guard formalized the collaboration on February 13 with a memorandum of understanding signed by senior leaders from both organizations as well as Iceland's Marine Freshwater Research Institute and the University of Iceland.
The scientists, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), are expected to continue their ocean observations of waves, winds, pressure, temperature and currents for at least two more years, and will broaden their interaction with the greater Icelandic scientific community in the coming months.
Luca Centurioni, another Scripps oceanographer and director of the Global Drifter Program buoy network, said understanding and forecasting surface ocean currents and weather around Iceland requires frequent direct observations from drifting buoys that collect and report data in real-time via satellite to support numerical weather prediction and to calibrate satellites.
The scientists will bring new state-of-the-art instruments to measure waves, currents, atmospheric pressure, and sea surface temperature. Already, an expendable buoy developed by Terrill’s technical team has reported seas in excess of 12 meters (40 feet) in its first week of operation in the chilly Icelandic waters.
Among the other instruments are expendable drifters that will be deployed by the Icelandic Coast Guard during normal patrols and training. In addition, two commercially available Liquid Robotics Wave Gliders that harness the energy of surface waves to provide propulsion will be operated during the pilot phase of the study. These will make long-duration mobile measurement platform of the winds and ocean response to the weather.
According to Scripps, the measurement network of buoys and gliders will improve the scientific understanding of the coupling across the air-sea interface, a critical component for ocean, atmosphere and climate research. The study also provides ocean condition situational awareness to the ICG for their maritime mission to serve and protect commercial marine traffic, and will improve the ocean forecast models they rely upon for patrol planning. Direct measurements of ocean currents can also greatly improve the effectiveness of search and rescue missions.
“The Icelandic Coast Guard is very pleased with the cooperation with Scripps Institution of Oceanography,” said Ásgrímur L. Ásgrímsson, chief of operations of the Icelandic Coast Guard. “The data collected by the two Wave Gliders and the buoys will be of great value for relevant Icelandic institutions for future weather, wave, and current predictions and thus contribute to safer maritime traffic. The Icelandic Coast Guard remains committed to its support for maritime science in the North Atlantic, which is among the roles entrusted to the organization by Icelandic law.”