The boats in the Volvo Ocean Race, which started from Cowes, England, on Sept. 23, 2001, are not only relaying their positions to race headquarters in England via satellite, as the boats in ocean races routinely do, but are also acting as weather data stations.
These race boats are reporting such standard data as average wind speed and direction, but they are also sending information on wave height. This data, all of which will be sent via Inmarsat C, will have a variety of uses by both the sailing community and scientists alike.
The position and weather data will be employed by race headquarters to track the racers and ensure their safety. This data will also be used by the web-based race viewer Virtual Spectator. This software product allows race fans to follow the race via an impressive 3-D display. Each boat sends a position data report four times a day, which contains position information sampled every 10 seconds for each six-hour period. This position data is used by the Virtual Spectator software to display the changing boat positions.
This information is also potentially quite valuable to oceanographers. In the Southern Ocean, home of frequent storms and huge waves, surface-gathered data on wave height is practically nonexistent. Physical oceanographers love to get their hands on actual data recorded on the surface.
While observed Southern Ocean wave-height and -frequency data may be sketchy, this type of information is readily available for U.S. coastal waters, including Puerto Rico and Hawaii, via the NOAA website: www.ndbc.noaa.gov. The National Data Buoy Center operates an array of 70 moored data buoys and coastal marine automated network (C-MAN) sites in various locations around the U.S.
At the data buoy site, you can click on a map of the United States and see a regional map that displays the location of each buoy. By clicking on a buoy, you can see an impressive list of up-to-the-minute information: wind speed, wind gust speed, wind direction, wave height, dominant wave period, atmospheric pressure, water temperature and more.
So if you’re heading into the ocean and you want to know the weather and wave conditions 50 or 60 miles offshore, you can go to the data buoy site and get an immediate sense of what’s happening.