University of Rhode Island Oceanographers awarded grant to develop equipment to improve measurements of ocean currents

December 10, 2001

Three URI Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) scientists have been awarded $350,000 by the National Science Foundation to develop and make available to the oceanographic community an inexpensive, next-generation RAFOS float, a subsurface, acoustically-tracked instrument used to tag and follow the movement of water, and, in doing so, measure the speed, direction, and temperature of ocean currents. Physical oceanographers Mark Prater, Dave Hebert, and H. Thomas Rossby, along with engineer Jim Fontaine, will design and build a limited number of floats for testing, with the objective of making a less expensive, smaller, lighter, more energy efficient, and robust instrument.

Neutrally buoyant instruments, ones that drift and are tracked acoustically beneath the water surface, have been in use to study the motion of subsurface waters since the 1950s. Rossby has been a leader in this field since 1970 and, with other scientists at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, has used the technology extensively to develop floats for a wide variety of applications in the ocean.

The RAFOS float has gone through a number of improvements over the past several years with the availability of new and more advanced technology. However, more measurements are required to increase the understanding of ocean circulation to address a variety of issues from impact of ocean currents on climate change to the deep water migration of zooplankton that are an important food source for cod.

"There is a need for a low-cost float that can be deployed in large enough numbers to provide data to address these issues," said Prater. "We need to properly sample the wide range of variability inherent in ocean currents to obtain statistically significant estimates."

The new RAFOS float will be constructed at GSO's Narragansett Bay Campus. The float will be built around widely available electronics and materials in order to keep production costs to a minimum. The GSO team will also consult with other RAFOS float users to ensure that the new float will meet their needs. After testing in the laboratory, the GSO team will deploy the new floats with other RAFOS float experiments, several of which are presently active throughout the world.
For more information about the evolution of the RAFOS float visit the GSO RAFOS Float Group webpage at:

University of Rhode Island

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