Synchronized Probes Explore Bermuda Triangle's Swirling Vortices

During the deployment, the profilers traveled within about a minute of each other.

“Nothing like this has ever been done,” said Tom Sanford

By Nancy Gohring, News and Information

Some might say that University of Washington oceanographers did well to only lose one of 21 underwater probes, given that they were deployed near the notorious Bermuda Triangle, where boats and airplanes have been known to disappear without a trace.

The scientists chose the location to research its swirling whirlpools via a pioneering experiment that repeatedly sent the probes deep into the ocean and back to the surface in unison.

“Nothing like this has ever been done,” said Tom Sanford, an oceanographer at the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory. “It will be the paradigm for future experiments.”

Typically, oceanographers may deploy an instrument in one place and then travel by boat to another spot to launch it again.

“You make observations that are a few kilometers apart but also a few hours apart. During that time, the tides change things and the wind blows. Yet you make measurements and treat them as if there was just a spatial change and not a temporal one,” Sanford said.

His group invented the velocity sensors that were added to commercial autonomous profilers, so called because they take measurements as they travel vertically through the water creating a profile of the water’s characteristics. They also changed the software to synchronize the path of the profilers, or underwater probes, which were programmed to dive to a specific depth and rise to the surface at scheduled intervals. When they reached the surface, they communicated their GPS positions and a small set of other data via satellites.


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“Nothing like this has ever been done,” said Tom Sanford