West African oceanic scientists, with help from the U.S. Navy, soon could be predicting severe weather patterns and protecting fishing grounds in the Gulf of Guinea.

During the next three months, the Navy’s High Speed Vessel 2 Swift will deploy 70 buoys and 10 Argo floats that will provide detailed climate data by tracking ocean currents, temperatures and salinity content.

The Navy is teaming with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the project.

“The information these buoys provide has a direct impact on forecasting, which can help African countries in the region,” said Navy Cmdr. Charles Rock, the ship’s commander. The Swift is part of the Africa Partnership Station, which includes various civilian and military participants working to build stability in the region.

The collaboration began in 2007, when U.S. Navy officials in Europe contacted NOAA in search of partners for APS.

At the time, the National Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of NOAA, was under a 2006 congressional mandate to reduce illegal and unregulated fishing around the world. Partnering with APS lets NOAA use Navy resources to follow that mandate, said Daniel Trott, a maritime partnership and interagency coordinator for U.S. Naval Forces Europe.

NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory manages the project, known as the Global Drifter Program.

Regional weather conditions made past attempts at data collection sporadic, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Rishovd, the Swift crewmember trained to maintain and deploy the buoys and floats.

“There was a high failure rate because the currents are so unpredictable. [The buoys] ended up on shore or getting picked up by fishermen. Some of them just didn’t work. The lack of data is like a big black hole,” said Rishovd, who trained on the program at the meteorological lab’s facility in Miami.

To overcome these limitations, the buoys have a 15-meter anchor to keep from drifting out of the area. The Argo floats are programmed to dive and transmit subsurface data to a satellite.

“Before the training, I really didn’t have any idea what kind of impact this had on the environment. It’s a great feeling to be involved with a project like this,” he said.

The ship will be in Ghana in April, where it will host American and West African climate scientists for a training seminar held by AOML.

The data collected by the buoys can be tracked on the NOAA Web site.

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