Measuring Sea Surface Temperature Can Help Sailors Safely and Swiftly Cross the Gulf Stream, Scientist Finds
Crossing the Gulf Stream in a small sailboat can be both challenging and dangerous. The speed of the water can be as fast as or faster than the speed of the boat. It may even be flowing in the opposite direction, making navigation difficult and slowing down the boat. In competitive racing, where seconds make the difference between a win and a loss, losing speed is not what one wants.
Guido Cervone, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Geoinformation Science, had a personal interest in this issue. A sailing hobbyist and occasional racer himself, Cervone wanted a way to better pinpoint the exact location and extent of the Gulf Stream, a powerful Atlantic Ocean current, when crossing it in a small boat.
“Every year, thousands of small boats cross the Gulf Stream, either as part of recreational navigation or competitive racing,” he says. “Crossing the Gulf Stream is considered one of the most — if not the most — dangerous parts of a race, and also one where the greatest technical advantage can be gained.”
In 2010, Cervone sailed in a four-member crew that included boat owner and accomplished racer David Andril, from Hamilton, Bermuda, to Annapolis, Md., on board the boat “Valkyrie” to collect sea temperature data and determine if using remote sensing satellite data could aid small vessels in locating and crossing the Gulf Stream safely and effectively.
“A small sailboat was chosen for this research in order to collect data with the same instruments available to most recreational mariners, and to reproduce the exact conditions and understand the risks and challenges associated with crossing the Gulf Stream,” Cervone says.
Although modern navigational devices help with planning an optimal route, Cervone says that even with recent advances in technology, the availability of data when at sea remains very limited. He believes it is necessary to combine reliable remote sensing observations with local temperature measurements to determine the exact location of the stream when at sea.
Cervone compared his on-site sea surface temperature measurements to several remote sensing data sets. “Due to the high correlation found between my [temperature measurements] and the high-resolution satellite data, it is possible to use the latter for both planning and real-time adjustment of the course to maximize the crossing of the stream and minimize the travel distance,” he says.
His results were published in a recent issue of the International Journal of Remote Sensing.
Cervone was excited to be able to combine two passions — sailing and remote sensing — in a research project that can have practical applications for mariners. He is also the faculty adviser for the Mason Sailing Club, which provides sailing lessons and opportunities for recreational rides and experiences to students.