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Hustle and flow: USF studies how water moves in Tampa Bay

Researchers are fine-tuning a model that helped scientists study the effects of last year’s Piney Point release into the bay.

ABOARD THE R/V W.T. HOGARTH — The research vessel motored off downtown St. Petersburg, its back deck loaded with squat, concrete trapezoids.

Painted blue and labeled “USF” and “FDEP,” the blocks were essentially anchors, 2,500 pounds apiece. Tucked within each was a small, $18,000 sensor.

Bob Weisberg, a physical oceanographer at the University of South Florida, stood on deck with a gaggle of students and colleagues. They donned orange vests and hard hats, and they stepped carefully around the trapezoids.

Over the 78-foot R/V W.T. Hogarth’s gunwales, the bay slipped calmly by, reflecting the morning sun on a warm Tuesday in May.

Soon the researchers would deliver the sensors to the bottom of the bay, where they will sit for months, measuring the velocity of water. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is helping pay for the work.

Scientists need velocity data to better understand an aspect of the bay that Weisberg believes is underappreciated: the way it moves.