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Flotilla of sensors to monitor world's oceans
(CNN) -- A flotilla of small probes will dive deep into the world's oceans to help scientists predict and monitor global weather events such as El Niño and La Niña. The first of thousands of the sensors has set sail from San Diego, the U.S. Commerce Department announced Tuesday.
The probes are designed to periodically sink a mile (1.6 km) below the surface, measure temperature, currents and salinity for 10 days, then float to the surface and transmit data to a communications satellite.
Part of the international Argo Ocean Profiling Network, data from the probes could enable more accurate predictions of seasonal storm patterns responsible for world floods and droughts.
The United States sent the first batch of six by ship to the South Pacific. The bright yellow sensors are 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall and less than 1 foot (0.3 meters) in diameter.
As many as 3,000 could bob along the surface of international waters within three years if Europe, Canada, Japan, India and Spain help complete the network as planned.
"Floating sensors, small as they may appear, are actually giants in the field of ocean and climate information collecting," said James Baker, administrator of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, part of the U.S. Commerce Department.
"We will no longer have to wait months and years for data deep in the oceans from ships. The floats will collect data and send the information back in real-time," he said.
In the wake of floods in 1982 and 1983, which caused billions of dollars worth of damage in California alone, climatologists set up a network of fixed buoys in places like the South Pacific.
The ocean observation system helps researchers detect the first signs of powerful weather systems like El Niño and La Niña. Each can last for years and disrupt rain patterns across the world.
But the new generation floats, not restricted to one spot or to the surface, should improve global forecasts. Research indicates that the ocean depths play help shape world weather patterns.
"The Argo floats are the logical next step," said David Evans, NOAA assistant administrator.
CNN Environmental Correspondent Natalie Pawelski contributed to this report.
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U.S. Department of Commerce
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