Sea Tower

In the stormy North Atlantic — about three kilometers or two miles off the coast of Massachusetts — the U.S. Navy has built a tower to study water, waves and wind.

The tower — shaped like a tripod — sits on the sea floor. It stands above the waves to measure wind speed, and air temperature, humidity and pressure. The tower’s bottom half peers underwater — and measures currents, saltiness and water temperature.

James Edson: People have been trying to do this for years. But, you know, the difficulty has been really trying to get the oceanographers and the meteorologists to do it at the same time across the air-sea interface and what this tower allows us to do is to do just that.

That’s James Edson, a marine meteorologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution — which operates the Air-Sea Interaction tower. Because a lot of heat and motion go between Earth’s oceans and atmosphere, climate modelers need this new data — to help predict future climate change.

James Edson: We really designed it for scientific investigations, as opposed to, say, trying to hang this stuff on an oil platform. There’d be so much distortion around the oil platform that you’d spend most of your just time trying to figure that out rather than worrying about your actual investigation.

The tripod-shaped ASIT tower (Air-Sea Interaction Tower) is about 38 meters — or 125 feet tall. The bottom 50 feet (15 meters) of the tower is underwater. It’s anchored to the sea floor so that it doesn’t move.

Instruments mounted up and down the tower monitor everything from bottom sediment to surface bubbles. Scientists are out to track energy itself by measuring minute fluctuations in temperature, salt content, and the speed and direction of currents and wind.

The tower’s data should not only make better climate change predictions possible — it could also allow improved weather forecasts — forecasts which 5 years from now won’t simply call for rain or shine, but may predict sea winds, currents and wave conditions several days in advance.

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