Research to predict disasters

South Florida’s coastline is a destination of desire for hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, and a convenient pastime for residents.

However, living just miles from the coast comes at a price, a reality that becomes apparent annually from June 1 through Nov. 30, otherwise known as hurricane season. As is often clear in the aftermath of major natural disasters, the difficult scientific prediction of the paths and strengths of these storms is key to mitigating their impact.

At the forefront of this effort is senior Anibal Herrera, a marine science and physics double major at the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science (RSMAS). As part of an effort stretching back to Fall of 2009, Anibal Herrera was a member of a research group, led by William Drennan, that utilized sensitive research buoys to gather data on typhoons in the Western Pacific, specifically Taiwan.

“I was simply ecstatic to be involved in such a large and exciting research project,” Herrera said.

Their objective was to examine the physical characteristics of typhoons at sea level, a task that has been previously unsuccessful. Since many storm systems occur at sea level, the importance of the data is evident in the development of innovative forecast models.

After being formally invited to join the group in the spring of 2010, Herrera was first heavily involved with the assembly and integration of the hardware necessary for the buoys’ data collection role.

“I learned a great deal about the work involved in putting together such a project, both logistically and physically,” Herrera said.

A budding physical oceanographer, Herrera went on to say that if he had to pick one specific aspect of the research project that excited him the most, it was “the opportunity to go out to sea and get a hands on experience aboard a research vessel while learning and working on such an important and innovative project.”

This past semester, he was invited to participate in the data analysis phase of the research. The findings of the research group will be published later this year, in which Herrera will be cited as a co-author.

When asked about his future plans, Herrera said that he hopes to attend graduate school with a focus on hurricanes and typhoons. His ultimate goal is to “contribute to the development of a healthier relationship between Earth and humanity through oceanographic research,” a goal he is now well prepared to achieve.