Why do some hurricanes intensify very rapidly while others do not? That’s the big question that NASA scientists are grappling with – and they’ve launched a set of repurposed military surveillance drones to find answers. In order to better understand tropical storms and ultimately improve forecast models, scientists are using unmanned Global Hawk drones to study Tropical Storm Gabrielle, which has re-formed in the Atlantic.


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Two of the original Global Hawks originally built for the military have been put into action for the job. These drones can fly for much longer periods than traditional research aircraft and at much greater altitudes – Global Hawks can spend up to 28 hours in the air at a time and reach altitudes twice that of a typical commercial airliner. The NASA research mission takes them over the Atlantic to study storms as they form and build, monitoring how they intensify.

According to deputy project scientist for the mission Paul Newman, terrific progress has been made in the last 20 years to know where the hurricane paths may go. Yet almost no progress has been made in forecasting the intensity of the storms. Predictions could become much more precise with new information, helping goverment officials and residents make informed decisions about security concerns and evacuation procedures.

NASA’s research work covers a lot of ground, whether it be examining wildfires or seeking to support near-earth asteroid mining. Turning their attention to hurricanes, they are working within the tropical storm season. This year’s mission is set to finish this month, and then start again in August 2014. With three years of data NASA hopes to have enough information for the project to be developed.

+ Nasa Science

Via Huffington Post

Images via Tony Landis and Carla Thomas/Wikipedia