Innovations in Florida
A roundup of stories on the latest research being done around the state.
Game of Tag
Sharon Marie the Tiger Shark, at last report, was feeding off the New England coast at a spot east of Cape Cod and due south of Nova Scotia. Tagged by University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science researchers in April in the Bahamas, Sharon Marie made her way up the Gulf Stream to South Carolina, circled around there for awhile then made a beeline for the north.
In 2017 alone, UM spent nearly 100 days sampling, took along more than 1,100 participants and caught, tagged and released more than 450 sharks.
Tagging sharks with GPS trackers has become both scientifically important to Florida institutions and a way to generate public interest and funding for marine research.
Nova Southeastern University and Jacksonville University, for example, also are in the tagging game. A Nova-tagged shark, Advanced Roofing 3 the Mako Shark, was off Atlantic City in July, having swum nearly 8,000 circuitous miles from near Maryland when first tagged in 2017 south to Wilmington, N.C., and as far north as the doorstep of Newport, R.I. You can track it at ghritracking.org.
NSU’s Guy Harvey Research Institute has satellite-tagged 291 sharks of various species in the last decade. Data led to conclusions that makos are overfished in the western Atlantic, and the overall mortality rate in the northwest Atlantic is 10 times what was previously thought.
Others colleges and institutions also tag.
At UM, a $3,000 donation covers the cost of an individual shark tracker, for which you get to pick a name. Then you and the general public can go to a UM site (sharkresearch.rsmas.miami.edu/ education/virtual-learning/tracking-sharks) and watch the fish’s journeys. You also can go on a tagging voyage with UM researchers for a suggested $300 donation.
Gains in Hurricane Forecasting
Hurricane forecasters have made strides in predicting storm paths with ever-increasing skill. In 1999, the average track error 72 hours out was 300 miles — roughly the distance between Miami and St. Augustine. Now, it’s not even 100. That’s meant a shrinking cone of uncertainty.
What concerns forecasters is that they haven’t made similar strides in forecasting the phenomenon of rapid intensification, in which winds jump at least 35 mph in a 24-hour period, a scary prospect when near land. Forecasters failed to correctly anticipate such intensification the majority of times they occurred in 2017. The government and other scientists have been working to do better, especially through NOAA’s Hurricane Forecast Improvement Program.
Now, researchers at NOAA and the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science have unlocked an approach. Using data and models from Hurricane Edouard in 2014, they found a “power struggle” between thunderstorm activity and upper-level atmospheric flows. When thunderstorms in a specific region of the hurricane overpower the upper-level flows to wrap around the storm center, rapid intensification occurs.
“This study could help hurricane forecasting by looking at the hurricane environment in a different way to improve forecasts,” says Hua Leighton, a researcher at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory and lead author of the study.