While us average folks enjoyed the incredible footage captured by a floating drone in the midst of a Category 4 hurricane, scientists were geeking out on the data.
The findings were presented at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting as part of a series of talks wrapping up the year in research for Saildrone.
The powerful storm mercifully stayed far out to sea for most of its life, though its outer edges did glance off Bermuda.
“I told everyone, ‘If this vehicle can survive a hurricane, then this would be a big success story,’” Chidong Zhang, director of the Ocean Climate Research Division of the federal Pacific Marine Environmental Lab, said in a statement.
The drone sent back unreal images as it was heaved about in towering waves.
Some of that data shocked researchers and made them wonder if an instrument had failed.
Not only was the water warm under Sam’s violent thunderstorm, but it was also less salty.
The scientists will continue to comb over the data in the coming months, but the preliminary findings show how natural processes can influence hurricanes and even build on climate change’s effects.
“I like to look at it as [global warming is] increasing the maximum intensity that a hurricane can reach,” Greg Foltz, a physical oceanographer at the federal Atlantic Oceanic and Meteorological Laboratory, said in a statement.
Getting a view from inside a hurricane, even one being influenced by a natural heat source, could provide researchers valuable insights for future forecasts.