Peruvian Navy Uses Buoys Provided by United States to Monitor El Niño

By Geraldine Cook
March 25, 2016

The Peruvian Naval ship BAP Zimic left the port of Callao on an oceanographic mission to plant 12 buoys provided by the United States to monitor the development of the El Niño phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean.

Peru’s Navy recently placed 12 profiling buoys in the Pacific Ocean in an effort to help prevent the damaging effects of the El Niño climate phenomenon. The U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO), and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provided the buoys to the Peruvian Sea Institute (IMARPE), which will help authorities in the Andean nation respond effectively to emergency situations.

On March 7th, the Peruvian Naval ship BAP Zimic, carrying a 25-member crew, left the port of Callao to drop the buoys between Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands – 240 miles from the coast – as part of its oceanographic mission. The BAP Zimic’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander César Ferrer, oversaw the mission, which included spending 15 days positioning the buoys.

The buoys will help authorities obtain information on, and prepare for, El Niño. “We had no information about the El Niño
phenomenon in this sector,” Commander Javier Fernández Segura, chief of the Peruvian Navy’s Oceanography Department.

The buoys will also “contribute to increased understanding of the large-scale ocean dynamics that maintain the upper ocean temperature structure in the equatorial Pacific,”
Steve Piotrowicz, a NOAA oceanographer,
said in an interview with Diálogo

“Global climate models have strong biases in the eastern equatorial Pacific and observations are necessary to both reduce these biases and to initialize the anomalies for seasonal prediction. Lack of observations in this region are likely to lead to larger forecast errors,” Piotrowicz said.

Real time data

The satellite-linked, profiling buoys will provide the Peruvian Navy’s Hydrography and Navigation Bureau information on salinity and temperature in real-time for a 2,000-meter deep, vertical column of water under each 30-kilogram buoy. “At a lower salinity, we can see the origins of the currents, and as for temperature, we can see the ocean’s behavior with respect to the rain,” Commander Julio Vílchez Moscoso, the Hydrography and Navigation Bureau’s chief program planner, told TV Perú

on March 7th.

These buoys are “extremely reliable,” Piotrowicz said. “The floats deployed in this program can be expected to provide high-quality observations of temperature and salinity to depths of 2,000 meters every 10 days for 4-5 years. The floats will drift with the currents at 1,000 meters, the depth at which floats park for nine days between profiling cycles.”

The government of Perú will not only be able to monitor ocean conditions present north of the country, in the zone lying between 2 degrees north and 4 degrees south [latitude], “authorities will also gain greater planning capacity and better preventive measures to counteract and respond to [the effects of] El Niño,” Cmdr. Fernández stated. “This joint effort will contribute to the country’s development because it will provide the fishing industry information on what is going to happen based on conditions at sea and migrations or new species of fish that might come with a change from warm to cold waters. Businesses can prevent and counteract these events.”

“The data are used in a large variety of ocean forecasting and product development programs. One of the major uses by the fishing industry has been forecasting of El Niño events. The present array has been deployed near the end of an El Niño event and will provide observations of the decay of the event off the coast,” Piotrowicz said.

IMARPE and the National Research Committee on the El Niño Phenomenon initially received the buoys from NOAA and NAVOCEANO, and coordinated with the Peruvian Navy for the deployment of the buoys. This joint effort deepens Peruvian-U.S. ties, as the countries already have been working together to combat transnational organized crime groups.

“The buoys have led to closer cooperation between the United States and Perú in oceanographic research to ensure an efficient and timely response to the effects of El Niño,” Cmdr. Fernández explained. “Peruvians now have a technological tool to take preventive measures and protect ourselves from the effects of El Niño.”

El Niño effects

The Kelvin and Rossby waves are the main causes of the El Niño effect. These waves originate in the western equatorial Pacific and move to the eastern Pacific, bringing significant effects, such as floods that can endanger human life and damage the country’s fishing and agricultural industries, according to the Peruvian Navy.

From January 1st to March 10th, strong rains caused by El Niño killed at least 14 people and adversely impacted more than 59,000 others, while flooding and seasonal rains attributed to the phenomenon impacted 21 regions, according to Miguel Yamasaki, an official with Perú’s National Civil Defense Institute, as reported by the Mexican online newspaper Imagen del Golfo
. More than 1,000 hectares of plantain and rice crops were flooded when the Tumbes River in northern Perú overflowed its banks after four days of rain caused by El Niño, the Office of the President of the Republic of Perú reported on March 4th.

In the autumn and winter of 1982-1983, the Andean nation suffered estimated economic losses of $3.2 billion in damages caused by El Niño. During the same period in 1997-1998, Perú sustained economic losses of $3.5 billion in damages during the El Niño season, according to the Ministry of the Environment.

The Argo program

With the buoys, Perú will actively participate in the Argo program, together with 50 research and operational agencies from 21 countries, including the United States, Chile, and Argentina, according to Argo’s website. Argo is a scientific operational project by the Global Climate Observation System and the Global Ocean Observation System under the World Climate Research Program’s project Climate and Ocean: Variability, Predictability, and Change. It’s sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, and the International Council for Science.

The scientific project began deploying buoys in 2000. Currently, there are more than 3,600 active, floating buoys. There are parts of the ocean that are overpopulated with buoys while other sections have gaps and need additional buoys. National programs need to provide approximately 800 buoys annually for the project to continue, according to Argo.

“It is important [for us] to be part of this scientific project and to contribute to oceanographic research to monitor the El Niño phenomenon, which has a global impact,” Cmdr. Fernández said. “The information is shared with the United States.”

“Many years ago, Perú had a series of research buoys located 400 miles from the coast. They also allowed us to monitor the El Niño phenomenon, within the latitudes where Perú lies. The continual theft of the buoys’ solar panels led to the project being cancelled. This new technology is resistant to vandalism since the buoys are no longer always floating on the surface,” he added.

And even before that, the Perú Navy had already provided logistical support to other research joint efforts with the United States, according to NOAA’s Piotrowicz.

“I was chief scientist for a research cruise to study the Perú upwelling in 1983 where the Peruvian Navy transported a shipment of radioisotopes for biological research from Lima to the ship off the coast of southern Peru,” he said. “The original shipment of radioisotopes was accidentally left on the tarmac in Miami, Florida by the airline and with the Peruvian Navy’s assistance the ship was able to leave port on time and the Navy transported the radioisotopes to southern Perú and then out to the ship. The Peruvian Navy [also] provided logistical support for a cruise staging from Callao to deploy a mooring in the SW Pacific in the mid-90s.”
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