Search and rescue at sea aided by hidden flow structures
Ross, Shane D.
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Every year, hundreds of people die at sea because of vessel and airplane accidents. A key challenge in reducing the number of these fatalities is to make Search and Rescue (SAR) algorithms more efficient. Here, we address this challenge by uncovering hidden TRansient Attracting Profiles (TRAPs) in ocean-surface velocity data. Computable from a single velocity-field snapshot, TRAPs act as short-term attractors for all floating objects. In three different ocean field experiments, we show that TRAPs computed from measured as well as modeled velocities attract deployed drifters and manikins emulating people fallen in the water. TRAPs, which remain hidden to prior flow diagnostics, thus provide critical information for hazard responses, such as SAR and oil spill containment, and hence have the potential to save lives and limit environmental disasters.