RU COOL researchers bring the SeaSonde high frequency radar to Cape Town

6 Mar 2015 - 14:30

In mid-February this year, we were fortunate to welcome two internationally recognised experts to our shores: Prof Scott Glenn and Dr Hugh Roarty (click on their names to read their biographies) from Rutgers University in the United States had arrived – with some sensitive high-tech equipment – to present a course on High Frequency Surface Wave Radar (click on the title to read more).

Prof Glenn is Professor and Co-Director of the Coastal Ocean Observation Laboratory (RU COOL), at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University. The researchers at RU COOL study the bio-physical processes of the coastal ocean, using operational observatories to collect real-time data for adaptive sampling by studying the coastal waters off New Jersey and around the world.

His colleague Dr Roarty is a Research Project Manager at RU COOL, with a particular research focus on improving remote sensing and in situ instrumentation (including High Frequency radar systems, autonomous under water vehicles (AUVs), acoustic velocity meters) to measure the physical and biological aspects of the ocean.

The objective of their course was to give students an overview of HF radar technology and its general fundamental principles. In view of their extensive experience of the use of radar in the oceanographic domain, this was their main application focus.

Why South Africa?

As Dr Roarty explained:

“Our reason for coming to South Africa is its location. The Agulhas current lies just off the coast of South Africa. This is one of the five major western boundary currents that balance heat on the planet. They accomplish this by transporting heat from the warm equator to the cold polar regions. The Agulhas is an important part of the global ocean circulation, which is central to global climate studies. The understanding of how the Agulhas behaves has implications for ocean and climate modeling.”

Gallery of Photos 1:

Plans for a High Frequency radar network

Prof Glenn and Dr Roarty also have long-term plans for setting up a network of High Frequency radars along the South African coastline:

Dr Roarty elaborated on this:

“The High Frequency radar network would be part of a validation campaign for the European Space Agency’s new Sentinel 1 satellite borne synthetic aperture radar measurements of the Agulhas current from space. The radar validation campaign will lead to a better understanding of the nature of the Agulhas current, ensuring better monitoring and predictions that in turn will lead to safer navigation, safety at sea and better oil spill monitoring in these heavily trafficked waters.”

Several organizations have expressed support for a High Frequency radar network in South Africa including:

Practical Session in the Classroom

Prof Glenn and Dr Roarty had brought a High Frequency radar with them from the United States, and the class carefully assembled this during one of the classroom sessions. The HF radar, known as the SeaSonde, is manufactured by CODAR Ocean Sensors in California, United States.

Gallery of Photos 2:
Field Trip to Simon’s Town

During a practical field trip to the Institute of Maritime Technology in Simon’s Town, midway through the course, participants had an opportunity to work hands-on with this equipment. They set up the HF radar system, and then collected and analysed the data.

Dr Roarty explained the experiment:

“The students from the course installed and operated a SeaSonde High Frequency radar at the Institute for Maritime Technology (IMT) in Simon’s Town. This entailed finding a suitable location for the radar antenna, assembling all the components of the radar (transmitter, receiver, antenna, cables etc.) and configuring the radar software with settings specific to the location in Simon’s Town. The class operated the radar for the day and collected surface current measurements of False Bay. The class measured currents that were counter to the previously understood flow in the bay.”

Some additional photos can be found online:

Gallery of Photos 3

Concluding Words

Looking back on their first-time visit to South Africa, Dr Roarty said that he and his colleague had left with very positive impressions of South Africa and the potential for future collaboration with SA students and scientists.

“Scott and I thoroughly enjoyed our time in South Africa. The landscape was beautiful. The trip out to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope is one that I will remember for some time. Our hosts at UCT (Daniel, Trevor and Judy) made our stay comfortable and appreciated. We can’t wait to come back.”

And we look forward to welcoming them to our shores again in the near future!


  • Thank you to Gabriel Lellouch for the excellent photos of the classroom practical and the field trip to Simon’s Town.
  • Thank you to Dr Hugh Roarty for his feedback and input on this article.