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Hurricane researchers going waaaaay outside the box

Efforts to improve hurricane forecasting are ongoing. In a true example of out-of-the-box thinking University of Miami researchers have enlisted sharks as unwitting allies in the effort. Like just about every project that originates outside conventional thinking the idea of using sharks as part of the forecasting calculus has brought a mixed reaction. But we'll have more on that in a moment.

The most obvious ways to improve forecasts is to improve the information that goes into the forecasting process. In past articles we've reported on ways to use satellites, floating weather stations and radar in combination with increasingly powerful computers in an effort to come up with more accurate predictions of course and strength. Those efforts have met with mixed results. While course projections seem to get slightly more accurate each year, the efforts to figure out how many hurricanes might boil up during any give season continue to frustrate even the most prominent meteorologists in field.

So where do sharks fit in? In a great example of the principle of serendipity where research in one field leads to advances in another, University of Miami Marine Biologist Jerald Ault that the sharks, tarpon, tuna and billfish he and his colleagues had been tagging for their own research noticed that the giant fish preferred water at 79 degrees Fahrenheit, which also is the minimum temperature that allows tropical cyclones to form. Ault and other scientists feel if they can tag enough fish, they can provide the National Hurricane Center with valuable information about ocean water temperatures that is not otherwise available.

If Ault's idea strikes you as a bit far-fetched you're in good company. Among the skeptics is the National Hurricane Center's top forecaster James Franklin, who doubts the fish can make a meaningful contribution to forecasting. But Ault and company are carrying on, hoping to find enough funding to tag the thousands of fish it would take to provide enough information to help forecasters.

Now if the idea of using sharks and other giant fish to help generate more accurate forecasts doesn't strike you as silly, perhaps the video accompanying this article about how French scientists hope research into the way soap bubbles move will improve hurricane forecasts will cause you to raise your eyebrows.