Drifter Buoy 'Army' Patrols the Oceans

Thursday, June 20, 2013
Air-drop Drifter Buoy: Photo courtesy of NOAA

Insignificant on their own, but approximately 1,000 of them patrol the world's oceans to record key data for climate monitoring and research.

In an era where 2-3 ton satellites that live 10 to 15 years collect millions of observations every day, the much smaller and shorter-lived drifting buoy, or "drifter," may seem like a lightweight—or even a relic. Each drifter is less than 22 feet long, tips the scales at no more than 100 pounds, and lives just 450 days on average.

"Because the drifters provide a ground-truth of currents, they are great for combining with satellite observations to study climate-scale problems," said Rick Lumpkin, director of NOAA's Global Drifter Program, which maintains the fleet of buoys and manages the processing and distribution of the data they collect.

Modern-day message in a bottle
Although most drifters start their journeys with a crude send-off—usually heaved into the ocean from the stern of a moving ship—Lumpkin describes today's drifting buoy as "a high-tech message in a bottle." But instead of taking months or years to carry a handwritten letter across the ocean, a drifter beams data into space. Roughly every hour, a satellite passing overhead relays the observations back to Earth.

Each drifter consists of a surface buoy and an underwater drogue attached by a long, thin tether. The buoy is where the thermometer, pressure sensors, batteries and other electronics are. The drogue is an anchor, a cylinder of four to seven sections, with a large hole through the center of each section giving the drogue a holey-sock look .

The evolving drifter
The modern drifter is a relatively lean instrument—44 pounds with 16-foot drogues—costing around $1,700 each. The first drifters were heavier (100 pounds) with longer drogues (21 feet), and they cost almost three times as much. In fact, the $5,000 price tag was enough to compel Lumpkin to personally chase down one that ran aground along the shore of a Hawaiian island in 1996.

Critical data for tracking climate, weather and more
Drifters provide essential sea-surface temperature and ocean current data used by climate models. Their observations are especially helpful for tracking the impact of El Niño and La Niña on global ocean currents. From time to time, NOAA deploys drifters in front of hurricanes to improve forecasts and investigate how the ocean and atmosphere interact within and around the storm. They also helped predict where currents in the Gulf of Mexico would carry oil after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

Drifters are invaluable for ocean research and monitoring, but all good things must come to an end; the life of a drifter is no exception. The large majority of drifters die when their batteries run out. Some run aground. The remaining few get picked up by boaters, or suffer a more traumatic end such as being hit by a ship.

Drifter Buoys: Photos courtesy of NOAA

Maritime Today

The Maritime Industry's original and most viewed E-News Service

Maritime Reporter November 2015 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds


IMMA App Offers Access to Maritime Medical Stores

Deteriorating seafarer health and poorly-stocked onboard medical chests are major issues concerning maritime medical practitioners, which is why the International

Available: 300 Free Systems; Wanted: 300 Ships

Which will be the first 300 ships in the world to test and validate Sea Traffic Management (STM) with updated systems free-of-charge?   As the shipping domain

BWM Convention Doesn't Resolve U.S. Issues - ICS

ICS notes that the IMO Secretary General has announced that the Ballast Water Management Convention will enter into force worldwide from 24 November 2016, following

Marine Science

BWM Convention Doesn't Resolve U.S. Issues - ICS

ICS notes that the IMO Secretary General has announced that the Ballast Water Management Convention will enter into force worldwide from 24 November 2016, following

Ballast Water Management in the Field Put to the Test

Turner Designs, along with scientists from around the world participated in a research cruise aboard the RV Meteor, a vessel owned by the Federal Republic of Germany

Los Angeles to Host Annual 'Fleet Week'

Mayor Eric Garcetti and U.S. Navy officials announced today that Los Angeles has been selected as an official Fleet Week market for the U.S. Navy, beginning in 2016.

Ocean Observation

Hague Court Begins Hearing On South China Sea Issue

A United Nations arbitral tribunal in The Hague heard some of the Philippines’ territorial claims over the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea on Tuesday.

Technology Readiness Levels Defined for Oil Spill Response

Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) staff participated in a workgroup meeting at the bureau's Ohmsett facility in Leonardo, N.J., as part of

EASTMED to Add VSAT on 20 Tankers and Bulkers

Greece-based Eastern Mediterranean Maritime Limited (EASTMED), a shipping operator servicing the energy, industrial and agricultural sectors, has chosen to install

Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Contracts Maritime Security Naval Architecture Pipelines Pod Propulsion Port Authority Salvage Ship Electronics Ship Repair
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.0667 sec (15 req/sec)