In March to April of 2003, Floyd Millet, a PhD student in Electrical and Computer Engineering conducted a scientific experiment on an offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. The purpose of the experiment was to understand how radar signals reflect from the ocean surface under different wind and wave conditions, in order to make NASA satellite altimeter measurements of global sea levels more accurate. Floyd spent several months assembling radar equipment, computer systems for storing data from the experiment, a weather station for measuring wind speed and other environmental parameters, and an array of laser rangefinders to measure the profile of the ocean surface.
The platform belongs to Shell Offshore Exploration, Inc. The company generously donated personnel time to help with setup and transported our supplies by boat at no charge. In March 2003, Floyd traveled by company helicopter to the platform, where he spent several days setting up and testing the equipment. He returned to BYU, and the experiment ran until late April, when he returned to the platform and took down the equipment for shipment back to BYU. Shell platform managers helped from time to time to restart the computer and check the system while the experiment was operating.
Since April of last year, Floyd has been processing the data and extracting useful scientific results from it. He has developed a theory which he will compare to the experimental measurements. This will form a major part of his dissertation. Experimental campaigns like this have helped to distinguish BYU's contribution to the field of satellite altimetry, since other groups have also developed very complicated theories for the reflection of altimeter signals from the ocean surface, but have not had real measured data available to verify the theoretical results.