Understanding Upper Ocean Salinity
Over the past 50 years, there have been dramatic changes in the oceans’ salt content. By tracking the variations in ocean salinity, researchers can better understand the global water cycle and its ties to climate change. Two satellites, SMOS and Aquarius, are being used to sense water salinity (and soil moisture, in the case of SMOS) around the world. The mission, titled SPURS (Salinity Processes in the Upper Ocean Regional Study), aims to measure the detailed structure of upper-ocean salinity, its temporal evolution, and its relationship to larger-scale atmospheric and oceanic forcing.
"The deployment of the first Wave Glider went very smoothly and we have already made some exciting - and previously very difficult - measurements that have the graduate students aboard [the vessel Knorr] begging to play with the data."
- Dr David Fratantoni, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
How We Helped
The multi-year SPURS effort will deploy an array of instruments and platforms, including autonomous gliders, sensor-laden buoys and unmanned underwater vehicles, to learn more about what drives salinity. In September 2012, scientists aboard the research vessel Knorr departed the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Woods Hole, Mass., to embark on a voyage designed to shed new light on the link between ocean salinity and shifts in global precipitation patterns. Scientists launched three Liquid Robotics Wave Glider autonomous marine robots to collect salinity and sea surface temperature (SST) in the mid-Atlantic ocean. Salinity is being measured at 22 cm and 660 cm and the team is finding very interesting and important differences between the two measurements, especially in the SPURS region where the ocean skin is warmed by hot tropical sunshine and made salty by vigorous evaporation.
Photo courtesy Dr. David Fratantoni
This important project will help define the character of the upper-ocean salinity fields by providing direct measurement of time-dependent horizontal gradients, all in the hopes of aiding closure of local and regional hydrological budgets.
“The deployment of the first Wave Glider went very smoothly and we have already made some exciting - and previously very difficult - measurements that have the graduate students aboard [the vessel Knorr] begging to play with the data,” said Dr. David M. Fratantoni of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
The three SPURS Wave Gliders are equipped to measure temperature, salinity, and meteorological conditions, and will continue to sample a 62 mile (100 km) box surrounding the SPURS moored array for a year.