25 November 2013

The motion of the ocean: How scientists measure the sea

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Nico Wienders, an oceanographer at Florida State University, has been studying the motion of the ocean for more than two decades. It's critical to understanding what happens in the sea, and especially important in the aftermath of an oil spill.

FSU Oceanographer Nico WiendersFSU Oceanographer Nico WiendersWienders — whose research has taken him to Antarctica and kept him at sea for months at a time — will talk about how he and other scientists track the movements of the ocean at the MagLab's next Science Café on Dec. 3. The hour-long café starts at 6:15 p.m. at Backwoods Bistro on Tennessee Street, so arrive early to get a good seat, food and drinks.“I try to understand the forces that make the ocean move, and the different forms of movement the ocean can exhibit,” said Wienders, who came to the U.S. in 2001 after earning his doctorate in 2000 in from the University of Western Brittany in France.

He’ll also talk about what he and other scientists are learning in the aftermath of the BP oil spill. Following the April 20, 2010 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oilrig, in which 11 people were killed, Wienders and others working with the Deep-C Consortium began collecting data in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Deep-C Consortium is a long-term, interdisciplinary study of the environmental consequences of oil spilled in the Gulf. Wienders also works with a similar research group based in South Florida, the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE). His work with the Deep-C Consortium involves gathering data from instruments deployed at various depths in the sea. Within CARTHE, his focus is on the numerical modeling of the multiphase plume (oil, water, gas) coming from the wellhead during the spill.

“For Deep-C, we put long chains of instruments from the bottom of the Gulf almost all the way to the surface, and left them there for a year,” he said. “We just recently collected it and are now looking at the data and trying to make sense of it.”

In all, he added, Deep-C scientists placed six such moorings of data-collecting instruments in the ocean. Scientists also placed instruments called floats in the ocean to collect information; some on the surface, some at lower depths.

Wienders will also talk about an unmanned sailing vessel, SailBuoy, which he launched into the Gulf earlier this year. The wind-propelled instrument looks similar to a surfboard and was equipped with two-way satellite communication for real-time data streaming. The self-powered vessel is part of the next generation of tools designed for marine observations.

Come hear more about the new ways scientists are measuring the sea at the December café.


The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory is the world’s largest and highest-powered magnet facility. Located at Florida State University, the University of Florida and Los Alamos National Laboratory, the interdisciplinary National MagLab hosts scientists from around the world to perform basic research in high magnetic fields, advancing our understanding of materials, energy and life. The lab is funded by the National Science Foundation (DMR-1157490) and the state of Florida. For more information, visit us online at nationalmaglab.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest at NationalMagLab.

Last modified on 23 September 2014