Exclusive: Sandy Knocks Out Big Chunk of U.S. Research Radar Network

Calm before the storm. This high-frequency radar instrument is part of a 28-site network along the U.S. Atlantic coast that was hit hard by Sandy.

Rutgers University/Institute of Marine and Coastal Studies

U.S. coastal scientists are reporting that superstorm Sandy knocked out more than one-half of a high-frequency radar network that measures shifting Atlantic Ocean currents just offshore.

The 28-site radar network stretches 1200 kilometers from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. But only 11 sites were still transmitting data after the storm made landfall on Monday night, according to physical oceanographer Scott Glenn of the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The network, run by a coalition of universities and U.S. government agencies, began operating in the late 1990s and is now part of one of the most comprehensive coastal monitoring systems in the world.

It's not clear how many of the 17 silent sites were destroyed by high winds and floodwaters, Glenn says, and how many stopped communicating but continued to collect data. But he's prepared for the worst: "We've seen some pictures of where our radar sites should be, and there is nothing but sand."

However, there's also a silver lining. Glenn says the radars did "great work" before succumbing, providing an unprecedented look at how Sandy scrambled offshore currents as it blasted ashore. Such information should be useful for improving computer models used to forecast storm impacts in coastal areas.

See the 9 November issue of Science for more details on Sandy's impact on science.