Hops to it

July 05, 2000

"The Perfect Storm," a new movie about a small boat caught in one of the century's fiercest storms, serves as a reminder to all seafarers just how dangerous and unpredictable the ocean can be.

The Harvard Ocean Prediction System is a modular system that can be deployed to any region of the ocean to provide forecasts of ocean weather, as well as information about ocean life, from whales to algae. Developed with ONR funding by Professor Allan Robinson, HOPS contains virtual models of a region that can be quickly updated with information from ships, airplanes, satellites, and autonomous vehicles. As the new data is added to the generic model, forecasts are produced.

"We assimilate yesterday's data into today's forecast of tomorrow's weather in the ocean," Robinson said. The ability to tailor a general forecasting system to specific tasks has been enhanced by applying HOPS to problems faced by the U.S. Navy. The Navy has long been interested in ocean forecasting as a way to anticipate the ocean's influence on naval operations under, on, and over the sea.

In the past, most of the research focused on deep-water environments where ships and submarines carried out their missions. Shallow coastal waters of the world present an added challenge as the focus of future naval operations will likely be in these littoral, or near-shore, areas.

In a specific example, HOPS was used during a naval war game to reveal how eddies of warm water generated along the Gulf Stream provided hideouts for "enemy" submarines. Underwater sound waves used to detect submarines are bent at fronts where warm and cold waters meet, making it possible for submarines to hide in the eddies.

HOPS has also been used to predict the location of crash debris from EgyptAir Flight 990 and identify the most promising waters for commercial fishing.

Office of Naval Research

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