AUSTIN (KXAN) — Since 1994, a network of anchored buoys straddling the equatorial Pacific Ocean has been used to help forecasters understand atmospheric-oceanic processes. Now, nearly 30 years later, that system of buoys is undergoing a major upgrade in hopes that it will further knowledge and forecasting abilities.

The “TAO”?

The Pacific TAO array, short for ‘Tropical Atmosphere-Ocean‘, is a system of 55 buoys spaced over 100 miles apart, anchored to the seafloor between the western and eastern equatorial Pacific, collecting continuous meteorological and oceanic data. Above the surface, the buoy acts like a weather station measuring air temperature, wind speed/direction and relative humidity. In the water, the buoy measures the water’s surface temperature, in addition to 10 other depths down to about 500 meters (0.3 miles). These buoys then transmit this recorded data hourly to the National Buoy Center.

Scientists use the data collected from the TAO network to understand complex ocean-atmosphere processes, most namely the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

The “TAO Recap”?

The highly-anticipated upgrade of this system, termed the ‘TAO Recap’ or Recapitalization, is already in motion and expected to continue through 2027. Updates include:

  • Added capabilities
  • Instrumentation upgrades
  • Better buoy placement
  • Increased frequency of observations
New formation/position of the TAO Recap.
PHOTO: NOAA map, based on data from National Data Buoy Center

Benefits of TAO Recap

A revamp in buoy placement includes removing 12 buoys from their current positions and adding 5 new buoys to different locations to better understand ocean movements at the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). Improved data at the ITCZ, the meeting place of the southeast and northeast trade winds, will help forecasters better predict the formation of tropical cyclones.

Added capabilities include 5-7 additional measurements at depths between 10-60 meters, in a layer known as the ocean’s ‘mixed layer’. This mixed layer plays an important role in El Nino and La Nina, and with more data, scientists hope to better predict and prepare for the changing phases of ENSO.

Instrumentation upgrades include adding tools that can observe rain, barometric pressure and solar radiation.

And only will the increased quantity of data help improve the accuracy of forecasts, the frequency of transmitted observations sliding from every hour to every ten minutes is also expected to improve output.

New versions of the TAO buoys have temperature sensors at more depths.
Image Courtesy: NOAA 

Here’s how you can learn more about the TAO Recap and the National Buoy Center.