Ocean and meteorology

Buoys at sea

Floating data collection equipment goes into operation this year

068-071_Boias_198Infographics: Ana Paula Campos / Illustrations: Pedro HamdanThe development of two buoys to monitor meteorological and ocean conditions will provide Brazil with the technology required to conduct offshore studies and oceanographic operations. For the first time, this kind of equipment will be made in Brazil. The two projects will be developed by Ambidados – Soluções em Monitoramento Ambiental, a company based in Rio de Janeiro. One project will be developed in partnership with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), with funding from Petrobras and the other, in partnership with the University of São Paulo (USP), with FAPESP support. The launch of USP’s buoy at sea will be one of the first missions of Alpha Crucis, the recently-acquired oceanography ship.

Wilsa Atella, one of the Ambidados partners, explains that these oceanographic buoys will collect valuable meteorological data and monitor the offshore marine environment. The buoys have two sensors that measure, for example, wind speed, rainfall intensity, air humidity, solar radiation, atmospheric pressure, concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2), air and ocean temperature, salinity, currents and waves. To this end, the buoys will be moored at a specific point in the ocean, from where they will transmit the information collected by satellite, which will then relay this to a computer system, and then it will be put on the internet. “Clients who use this information include ports, offshore companies, and researchers involved in monitoring-related projects,” says Wilsa.

Oil platforms
The meteorological-oceanographic buoy (BMO) is a cylinder-shaped object, with a 2.5 meter diameter; 1.20 meters high, it weighs 400 kilos. Development began in 2010, at the request of the Leopoldo Américo Miguez de Mello R&D Center (Cenpes) of Petrobras. “This buoy is important for offshore meteorological and oceanographic monitoring in deep waters, to which oil drilling platforms owned by Petrobras and by other companies are relocating,” says Wilsa. She adds that, at first, two buoys will be made. One has already been delivered to Petrobras and is scheduled to be taken to sea this year. The other will be ready in September.

Atlas-B, another buoy in the process of being concluded by Ambidados, was developed in partnership with the Oceanography Institute (IO) of USP. According to professor Edmo Campos, of the IO Department of Physical, Chemical, and Geological Oceanography, the idea behind this buoy arose in 2004, after the south of the Brazil was hit by the Catarina hurricane, in March of that year. This event made it clear that Brazilian meteorology was not prepared to predict such an event, which requires knowledge on the conditions of the sea where the hurricane begins and the average temperature of the ocean, all the way down from 100 to 200 meters.

Two of these buoys, manufactured for Petrobras, will mostly be used to measure currents and waves in the pre-salt layer region

AMBIDADOSTwo of these buoys, manufactured for Petrobras, will mostly be used to measure currents and waves in the pre-salt layer regionAMBIDADOS

According to Campos, the development of Atlas-B has two main objectives. One is of a meteorological nature: to improve weather forecasts and become familiar with the conditions at sea near the region where the buoy will be moored. The other is to establish a time-based series of such forecasts, to keep track of possible climate changes. “This is a pioneering project in Brazil,” says the researcher from USP. “Our country has always been well known for coastal oceanography. Now we have built a system to monitor ocean and atmospheric conditions in offshore waters. In addition, for the first time, we are doing the entire process – designing, building, launching and maintaining the buoy.”

The initial plan was to purchase Atlas buoys, the same that are being used in the Pirata project, a joint effort of the United States, Brazil and France. The objective of this project is to monitor the waters of the tropical Atlantic Ocean region, between South America and Africa, from a latitude of 20º South (more or less around the region of the capital city of Vitória, State of Espírito Santo) to a latitude of 20º North (the region of the Caribbean). Sixteen buoys are moored in this space; they were made in the US for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (Noaa). “Instead of selling the buoys to us, the Americans suggested that we manufacture our own and make them identical to the Atlas buoys,” says Campos. “They transferred the technology to us, so we could copy their buoys. This is why we refer to the buoy we are currently manufacturing as the Atlas-B.”

Soon thereafter, Campos and his team started looking for an engineering firm able to manufacture Atlas-B. They contacted Ambidados and signed the contract in March of 2011. “We provided the company with all the specs and the company began work on developing the buoy,” says Campos. “FAPESP gave us a grant of R$ 500 thousand under its climate change program, a project coordinated by professor Tércio Ambrizzi, of the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences (IAG), of USP; the National Institute of Science and Technology – Climate Change provided us with a R$ 500 thousand grant, and the National Scientific and Technological Development Council (CNPq) gave us another R$ 500 thousand.”

The Atlas-B is made from the same material – fiberglass, steel and aluminum – as the BMO. Both are approximately the same size, but their shape is slightly different. The Atlas-B has a toroidal shape (resembling a life jacket or a tire). The part that will stay on the surface has a small tower, about two meters high. Sensors such as rain gauges will be installed in this tower, to measure the amount of rain; other devices will include anemometers, to measure wind speed and direction; spectroradiometers, to check solar radiation; GPS; thermometers; and gauges to measure the relative humidity of the air and concentrations of CO2.

Atlas-B is a licensed copy of the similar Atlas buoy made in the United States

NOAAAtlas-B is a licensed copy of the similar Atlas buoy made in the United StatesNOAA

The underwater part of the buoy will also be equipped with a smaller, upside down tower. A cable, measuring four thousand meters, will come out of the lower part of the tower and its end will be anchored to the bottom of the sea. The buoy will be moored at a specific point on the surface, in the region where the Catarina hurrican formed, 600 kilometers off the Cape of Santa Marta, on the coast of the State of Santa Catarina. Sensors will be installed on the first 5,600 meters of cable, starting from the buoy. This equipment will include fluorometers, to measure fluorescence, and spectroradiometers, to check the solar radiation that penetrates the ocean, as well as instruments that measure ocean salinity and temperature.

Via satellite
All the data collected by the sensors installed in the buoy will be managed by a computer system called Datalogue, developed by Campos’ team at USP’s Oceanography Institute. “After being downloaded into Datalogue, the information will be transmitted to a transmission module that will relay the information to the Argos satellite system, which collects environmental data from autonomous platforms all over the world,” Campos explains. The data will be relayed from the satellites to the Internet.”

According to the researcher from USP, two Atlas-B buoys will be built in the beginning. The first one is nearly ready and will be launched from the Alpha Crucis ship on November 1. To this end, USP’s Center for the Support of Research on Climate Change provided R$ 200 thousand. “The first buoy will remain in operation for one year,” says Campos. “After that, another identical buoy will replace it. Our expectation is that this arrangement will last for a long time so that we can rely on uninterrupted, time-based, long term series related to climate studies. The R$ 1.5 million funds granted by FAPESP, CNPq and INCT will be used to build the two buoys. The first two buoys will enable us to prove that we are able to manufacture, moor, and operate buoys identical to the Atlas buoys used in the Pirata project.”

Besides the BMO and the Atlas-B, Ambidados has developed a third product, called Ondaleta, an instrument to monitor tides and waves in the ports. The device is comprised of a PVC box that houses its electronic systems and a pressure sensor, along with a copper tube that extends out into the water. The Ondaleta can measure the height of tides and waves and the time between each wave. It is connected to another unit that can be installed, for example, at a shipping company. “Communication between the two units can be in real time via radio or optic fiber,” says Wilsa. “We have also developed specific software that enables the client to configure the sensor according to his needs.”

The patent of the Ondaleta device belongs to Cenpes, of Petrobras, and was licensed to Ambidados in 2010. Ambidados pays royalties to the oil company. “At first, the device was merely a prototype,” says Wilsa. “We developed the product and the on-line interface commercially, with our own funds and funding from Cenpes. We have already sold five units to companies.” Ambidados is a technological enterprise founded in 2006 by researchers from the Ocean Engineering Program of Coppe. In 2007, the company installed itself in Coppe’s incubator. In April of this year, the company moved to the Rio de Janeiro Technological Complex on the UFRJ campus in Fundão island. “Our main clients are Petrobras and Vale,” says Wilsa. “At present, we employ 31 people and we expect this year’s revenues to amount to R$ 3 million.”

The Project
Impact of the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean on South American climate for the 20th and 21st centuries (nº 2008/58101-9); Modality Thematic Project of the FAPESP Program of Research into Global Climate Change (PFPMCG); Coordinator Tercio Ambrizzi – USP; Investment R$ 2,075,788.51 and US$ 583,427.37 (FAPESP)