Category Archives: Oceans & Water

Swarm Alert! Flying Robots Take On Hurricane Research

flow2_fHave you ever heard of “going with the flow?” That’s the idea behind a new generation of small, computer-controlled, airplanes being built to spy on hurricanes. They are only six inches long and weigh less than a iPod Nano, but scientists at the University of Florida believe they are more than a match for the monster storms.

Instead of trying to fight their way through a storm large enough to be seen from space with winds that can reach 200 miles per hour, these aircraft will be positioned near the path of the hurricane so they get pulled in when the storm gets closer. Once they are grabbed by the winds, they power down and go along for the ride. They gather data the whole time, and are smart enough to make small adjustments to stay in place as the storm moves along. They’ll send information about the storm to the laptop computers of scientists stationed hundreds of miles away.

Today, scientists who want to get up close and personal with a hurricane have to build big, expensive airplanes that are strong enough to fly through the storms dropping sensors that send back information as they fall to Earth.

Because the new flying sensors are small and inexpensive, researchers will launch hundreds of them into a single storm, getting data from lots of places all at the same time. This new technology should be ready to test on a real hurricane within two or three years. So in the future, we should understand the storms better than ever.


PRESS RELEASE: Tiny Airplanes and subs could be next hurricane hunters. University of Florida (2013, June 4).

Hurricane Information from Weather for Kids

NASA Hurricanes and Tropical Cyclones Pages

Hurricane Aircraft — Technological Marvels That Fly Through Storms

Eric Zamora/University of Florida: “GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Autonomous flying drones like this one are the result of research by Kamran Mohseni and graduate researchers with the Institute for Networked Autonomous Systems in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Florida. Photo taken May 30, 2013.”

Scat Dogs of the High Seas


File this post in the “Things you might never know if you don’t go to the museum” category.

Whales are mysterious creatures, but scientists can learn a lot about them by studying whale poop. They can learn about the whales’ eating habits, whether they are male or female, whether they are healthy or under a lot of stress. The scientists can even use DNA testing to identify individual animals and learn whether female whales are pregnant.

That’s useful information. But here’s the problem: finding whale scat (scat is another word for animal poop) in something as large as the ocean is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Luckily, there’s a solution.

As anyone who has ever walked a dog knows, dogs love to sniff. Sniffing around the ground, for a dog, is like reading a good book with a complicated story. The weirder the smells, the more interesting the story.

So imagine the lucky dog that gets to go out on the trail of some of the Earth’s largest creatures.

Once they are trained to know what to sniff for, dogs riding in the front of boats can help marine biologists find whale poop floating in the water. Dogs can even smell whale poop from one mile away, which you have to admit is pretty amazing.

Since learning how to get help from trained pooches, scientists now find four times as much, err…, research material, as they used to find. That means they have greater access to all kinds of useful data. Not bad.

Another Interesting Thing About Whale Poop: Sometimes poop from a whale with an upset stomach contains a particular substance that hardens into a waxy, almost rock-like object after floating around the surface of the sea for years and years. It is called ambergris and can wash up on any beach in the world. It has a unique smell that is very valuable to perfume makers. In 2012, an 8-year-old boy walking on a beach in England found a chunk of ambergris that weighed a little over a pound. It turned out to be worth $63,000.

Scat: another word for animal poop
Ambergris: waxlike substance that originates in the intestines of a sperm whale

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Science for Kids

National Geographic