Explorer of the Seas, which is reportedly the world's only cruise ship equipped with state-of-the-art ocean and atmospheric science laboratories, continues to make important contributions of meteorological data to assist the National Hurricane Center
. The 142,000-ton Royal Caribbean International ship
recently provided the NHC with valuable 15-minute updates of surface winds on Hurricane Claudette as it grew from a tropical storm. The data was mentioned by NHC as a factor in locating the center of Claudette as it interacted with the Yucatan Peninsula.
In readings taken east of Cozumel early on July 11, Explorer of the Seas recorded 50-knot surface winds when reconnaissance planes were unable to get a more reliable indicator that flight-level winds of 40 knots. During the 2001 and 2002 hurricane seasons, data from Explorer of the Seas was used in forecasting for Hurricane Michelle and Hurricane Isidore.
Royal Caribbean's innovative, oceangoing research labs are operated by the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, which has provided permanent technicians on two-week rotations. The labs, directed by Dr. Otis Brown, dean of the Rosenstiel school, have been collecting data since the maiden voyage of Explorer of the Seas October 28, 2000. Each weekly voyage adds invaluable information on the variability of strong currents like the Gulf Stream, the distribution of chlorophyll, and seasonal changes in wind patterns and cloud cover that contribute to changing climate, and measurements that contribute to greater accuracy in satellite imagery.
"The data set is the longest and most extensive continuous shipboard measurements available in the Caribbean Sea," says Liz Williams, program manager for the Rosenstiel labs.
"These labs monitor the ocean and atmosphere as the ship cruises through the Caribbean at an average of 20 knots," she explains, "and provide more than 400 reports a month to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is more than any other vessel in the U.S. Voluntary Observing Ship (VOS) program."
VOS was organized for obtaining weather and oceanographic observations from moving ships, and some 1,600 vessels transmit data to the National Weather Service.
Never is a Royal Caribbean ship in harm's way because wind fields of tropical storms are typically very large. Because there is always a lab technician aboard Explorer of the Seas, the data quality is constantly monitored.
The ocean lab provides scientists with data on sea surface temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, and ocean currents under the ship to 1,000 meters below the hull. This year, a new instrument has measured PCO 2, which is important in predicting the ability of the oceans to absorb carbon dioxide, a gas associated with global warming.
The atmospheric lab provides a weekly view of the winds, cloud cover, precipitation and particle counts, which, at times, includes data on the African dust clouds that travel across the Atlantic to Florida.
In addition to research activities on Explorer of the Seas, each week a scientist is available to give tours of the labs and a lecture on current research in their field. Laboratory space can be made available to any scientist interested in marine or atmospheric studies in the Caribbean.