NASA developing ocean storm model

July 9, 2009

NASA announced that it will combine satellite imagery with computer models and artificial intelligence to come up with a system that will be able to warn ocean-going pilots of dangerous thunderstorm-related turbulence. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., is a partner in the project.

The idea is to identify rapidly evolving storms and other potential areas of turbulence. Satellites to be used include NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), Terra, Aqua, and CloudSat satellites. The information from them will be merged with NCAR’s existing expertise in forecasting turbulence around storms, as well as in clear air.

“Our goal is to give pilots a regularly updated picture of the likely storms ahead as they fly over the ocean, so they can take action to minimize turbulence and keep their aircraft out of danger,” said NCAR scientist Cathy Kessinger, a project team manager.

The research project, set to begin tests next year, follows the crash of Air France 447. The Airbus involved in the crash is suspected to have encountered severe turbulence after penetrating thunderstorms off the coast of Brazil.

For a look at some images relating to the prototype turbulence-detection system, see NASA’s Web site.

Thomas A. Horne

Thomas A. Horne | AOPA Pilot Editor at Large, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.