Great Lakes rip currents: Advancing current forecasting to help save lives

New mobile radar technology in Lake Michigan will soon be able to detect the development of potentially dangerous currents that will impact beach forecasting.

A new mobile radar technology – called coherent x-band radar – will be put into place around Lake Michigan during the summer and fall seasons, that will detect and study rip currents in Lake Michigan. The first phase of this study will occur in northern Lake Michigan, along Highway US-2 in Mackinac County, in late July or August. The second phase will occur in the fall, farther south in Lake Michigan, in Grand Haven and Holland.

This project will bring together researchers in the areas of coastal data collection, hydrodynamic modeling, environmental monitoring and meteorological forecasting. This study will also contribute to the development of a regional knowledge-based framework for the prediction and early warning of Great Lakes rip currents for the beach-going public. The expertise for this research program includes personnel from leading institutions for Great Lakes research, including the University of Michigan and Michigan Technological University. It also engages experts in nearshore dynamics and forecasting from the National Weather Service, the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory,Michigan Sea Grant, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, and local organizations, such as the Mackinac County Water Safety Review Team and the Great Lakes Beach and Pier Safety Task Force, engaged in public outreach on beach safety.

The newly developed coherent x-band radar has the capability for direct measurements of Great Lakes currents that will provide details on how these dangerous currents develop. This radar equipment will significantly enhance this project by improving the capability for up-to-date current measurements in specific geographic locations. Specifically, the new radar system will operate with increased accuracy when compared to existing research instrumentation.

The research team has recently acquired two state-of-the-art fully Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV’s) under Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding. These vehicles are capable of unattended operation for up to six hours. The AUV will engage in bottom depth mapping and measure nearshore currents. The AUV will operate parallel to the shore outside the zone of active wave breaking to document offshore-directed rip flows. This new technology provides a unique way to capture the dynamic behavior of Great Lakes rips, which was never before possible.

For more information on the study, contact Guy Meadows, Director of Great Lakes Initiatives, Great Lakes Research Center at Michigan Technological University, at 906-487-1106 or 734-994-7234.

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