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NOAA invests $4.5 million to improve ocean observations for weather and climate prediction
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NOAA invests $4.5 million to improve ocean observations for weather and climate prediction

NOAA’s Climate Program Office announced today that it is investing $4.5 million in four projects to test technology designed to improve the Tropical Pacific Observing System, an array of buoys in the tropical Pacific used to better understand El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), how it develops, and how it affects Earth’s weather.

Understanding ENSO has been a major focus of multiple agencies and countries across the globe for decades. In 1979, a global network of scientists began a project to create an array of buoys in the tropical Pacific to improve the detection and prediction of ENSO called the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) Project. In the three decades since the initial launch, scientists have used new technology to improve this observing system, including satellites, autonomous surface vehicles and Argo ocean floats.

The four new projects are:

Enhanced ocean boundary layer observations

NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab (PMEL) and National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) will lead a project to add new sensors to the existing TAO moorings to measure ocean currents in the upper 40 meters of the water column, where direct wind forcing of ocean currents occurs. 

New rainfall, wind speed, and biogeochemical sensors   

The University of Washington will lead a project to outfit Argo floats with sensors to measure near-surface temperature and salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH, and chlorophyll in the upper 2000 meters of the water column. These sensors will also measure wind speed and rainfall.

Autonomous surface vessels as low-cost observing platforms

PMEL will lead a project to equip Saildrones, a type of wind-powered autonomous boat that resembles a windsurfer, with sensors to estimate wind stress and the air-sea exchanges of heat and carbon dioxide in the tropical Pacific. These Saildrones will be completely controlled from land at PMEL in Seattle and Saildrone, Inc. in California.

New sensors to measure wind stress

NOAA’s PMEL and Earth System Research Lab join with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and University of Connecticut to add a self-contained instrument to existing NDBC TAO buoys to make direct measurements of wind stress and surface waves in order to explain wind forcing and the exchange of heat from the ocean in the tropical Pacific.

These investments contribute to NOAA’s advancement of the Tropical Pacific Observing System (TPOS 2020) Project and are critical to NOAA's mission to predict weather and climate.

For more information contact Monica Allen, director of public affairs for NOAA Research, at 301-734-1123 or by email at

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Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) - or "NOAA Research" - provides the research foundation for understanding the complex systems that support our planet. Working in partnership with other organizational units of the NOAA, a bureau of the Department of Commerce, NOAA Research enables better forecasts, earlier warnings for natural disasters, and a greater understanding of the Earth. Our role is to provide unbiased science to better manage the environment, nationally, and globally.


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