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Prestigious Henry Stommel Research Award to CMOP Investigator

01/21/10 Seattle, WA

Tom Sanford, Ph.D.Tom Sanford, Ph.D.

Tom Sanford, Ph.D., an investigator with the Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction (CMOP) and oceanographer at the Applied Physics Laboratory of the University of Washington (APL-UW), has been awarded The Henry Stommel Research Award by the American Meteorological Society.

The Henry Stommel Research Award is granted to researchers in recognition of their outstanding contributions to advance understanding of ocean dynamics and physics.

Sanford is recognized for his pioneering development of unique instruments based on electromagnetic sensors and for using them to unravel key features of ocean dynamics.

“I am delighted to receive the award,” Sanford says. “I was a student of Stommel, and he was helpful in encouraging my efforts to understand the seawaters motion by measuring electric effects.”

One of Sanford’s pioneering instruments is an electromagnetic device for CMOP called the Sigma Profiler. This instrument measures electrical conductivity in a water column, which can be converted into salinity readings. Sanford and his team tested the profiler in the Columbia River estuary for 14 days in the summer of 2009. The results demonstrated how to use multiple frequencies to understand the vertical distribution of salinity.

“The importance of the Sigma Profiler is its potential to deliver long-term, high quality measurements at multiple locations in real time,” Sanford says. “CMOP scientists then can assimilate the data into numerical models and improve their forecasts.”

Sanford also designed an electromagnetic sensor used to understand the ferocity of hurricanes on the ocean. There is little known about response of the ocean to hurricanes and typhoons. The ability to determine the potential intensity and track of such storms has been a challenge to scientists.

Sanford and a team of scientists and engineers at APL-UW designed an instrument that used electrodes to measure the electric field induced by the motion of the ocean through the Earth’s magnetic field. The electric field is converted to ocean velocity. They installed the electric field sensor to an autonomous profiling float outfitted with pressure, conductivity and temperature sensors.

“We built and tested three of these devices in 2004, then rushed them off to be air-launched into hurricane Frances,” Sanford says. “They were parachuted out of a C-130 aircraft, one directly in the path of the hurricane’s eye, one about 50 kilometers to the right (where the winds where strongest), and one about 100 kilometers to the right. The results were just stunning. We had profiles to 200-m depth every 75 minutes that showed, in detail, how the ocean changed under winds up to 65 m/s (127 kt). The profiler transmitted an enormous amount of information with beautiful pictures of salinity, temperature, and velocity.”

Sanford formally received the award from the American Meteorological Society on January 20 at the AMS Awards Banquet in the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Written by Jeff Schilling