Piracy - a new role for weather forecasting?

Advertisment
  • Piracy - a new role for weather forecasting?
    27.01.2011 15:08

     

    Businesses and individuals use accurate forecasts of the weather to mitigate many potential problems, and now it seems that this might extend to the eradication of piracy.

    It may sound jokey but this was the subject of a presentation by an applied mathematician working for the Naval Research Laboratory in Monterey, California.

    James Hansen (not the NASA climatologist) outlined his ideas to an audience of 3,500 scientists at a meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) in Seattle, Washington, on Monday.

    Forecasting for the high seas has had a long and storied history since the pioneering work of Vice-Admiral Robert Fitzroy and Admiral Francis Beaufort in the eighteenth century. It includes delicate naval predictions for the English Channel ahead of the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944.

    Now James Hansen is proposing forecasts of a different kind for the US Navy as it patrols the dangerous seas around the Horn of Africa, where piracy remains rampant. In 2010 there were nearly 450 attacks which resulted in the hijacking of 53 ships and capture of more than 1,100 crew.

    The vastness of the Indian Ocean means that the Navy struggles to contain the problem and hunt down the perpetrators, even with some knowledge of their likely bases.

    The relatively small size of the pirate’s boats exacerbates the issue. However, Hansen proposes a model that exploits this.

    Smaller vessels cannot operate in rough seas, so his model seeks to combine observations and forecasts of wind speeds, wave heights and currents with intelligence from informants, surveillance and spy satellites, and real-time information on shipping movements.

    It should then be able to produce maps of high-risk areas and statistical probabilities of attack.

    The US Navy is taking this seriously, and is due to begin trialling the model in February.

    By: Stephen Davenport