NEWARK, N.J. — Travis Miles spent most of Monday on a boat, sailing past the devastation on the Jersey Shore in a quest to retrieve something that he and others hope will help warn people about the power of future storms. Miles, a PhD candidate in oceanography at Rutgers University, and his fellow researchers headed 30 miles off Seaside Heights, NJ, a town crippled by Superstorm Sandy, to retrieve an underwater glider that collected data about how the ocean behaved before, during and after the storm.
"Is a tough situation because I was really excited to be able to get this data but it's at a cost at how terrible this damage is," Miles said. "But with this data we can hopefully use it to make forecasts better so some of this stuff doesn't necessarily happen in the future."
The glider, which is "yellow and it can be mistaken for a missile," according to graduate student Greg Seroka, collected data on how the Atlantic Ocean behaved during the storm.
Researchers plopped the glider in the water Oct. 25. It has the ability to descend to the ocean floor and back up, like a scuba diver. Researchers back at the laboratory can direct it using GPS coordinates. The device was about 30 miles offshore during the storm. It called the laboratory every hour with its coordinates and streamed data back to the researchers.
The goal, researchers said, is to look at how water temperature, the mixing of sand from the ocean floor, depth and pressure affect the intensity of a large storm. "We're trying to see how Sandy and other storms are mixing the ocean and better understand the physical effects," Seroka said.
The group had a glider in the Atlantic for Hurricane Irene last year. It found that the ocean mixed in cooler water as the storm system approached New Jersey, taking away some energy and lessening its intensity, said Josh Kohut, an assistant professor of oceanography at Rutgers. While the ocean mixed with Sandy, the water stayed warm and preserving its force.
The researchers continue to analyze the data. With another storm forecast for this week, the group wanted to pull the 100-pound glider out of the water to ensure no data gets lost. They're usually pretty hearty objects; Miles has worked with them in Antarctica and said few get damaged by the sea. "There's a great interest in understanding these storms and trying to improve predictions of these storms," Kohut said, "Because we've seen the major impacts they can bring."