NEFSC Drifter Program

Student-built, fishermen-deployed, satellite-tracked “drifters” provide a low-cost means to monitor  currents off the New England coast and beyond. These instruments are constructed according to oceanographic standards to move with the current and report their positions on a regular basis. While most of the units are “surface drifters” marking the upper meter of the water column, “drogues” are attached in some cases to mark the deeper flow. One of the primary motivations for drifter deployments is to help validate the many numerical circulation models as well as the growing network of CODAR systems.  The dataset to conduct such studies is rapidly growing.

For information on the Drifter Workshop in May 2014, click here.

Drifter Overview

Goals of the Drifter Program at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center are: 
To maximize deployments, students involvement, data use
To minimize redundant development, cost, effort, and windage
To maintain oceanographic standards

History:
In 2004, funding was provided by NOAA's Northeast Consortium as part of the Environmental Monitors on Lobster Traps project (see emolt.org). The Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, the Southern Maine Community College, and NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center were interested in tracking the potential transport of early-staged larvae along the coast of Maine. In recent years, additional support has come from National Science Foundation and elsewhere to conduct a series of workshops for educators around the country.


Applications funded to date include:

  • Lobster larvae advection
  • Harmful Algal Blooms advection
  • Zooplankton advection
  • Educational demonstration
  • Invasive crab dispersal
  • Transient eddy formations
  • Oil spill tracking
  • Fish larvae (salmon,cod,herring) transport 
  • Power plant effluent dispersal
  • Tidal power assessment

Some partners involved and their role:

  • Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation non-profit processes orders
  • AXXON  manufacturers the GPS transmitters 
  • Southern Maine Community College Marince Science Department assembles parts
  • CommTechMobile is the satellite service provider
  • Globalstar float the low-orbitting satellites
  • NOAA promotes the use of these drifters and processes the data
  • NERACOOS helps make data accessible

Interested scientist and educators should contact Jim at, james.manning@noaa.gov and Erin Pellitier, erin@gomlf.org

 

Drifter Map

Drifter Resources

Student-built, fishermen-deployed, satellite-tracked “drifters” provide a low-cost means to monitor currents off the New England coast and beyond. These instruments are constructed according to oceanographic standards to move with the current and report their positions on a regular basis. One of the primary motivations for drifter deployments is to help validate circulation models.

Why drifters?  Over the past decade, funding has increased in support of using surface drifters for environmental monitoring that far exceeds the study of surface currents and circulation.  Research using drifters has included investigations into plankton dispersal, movement of harmful algal blooms, oil spills, and tidal power assessments.

Drifters are equipped with a beacon that transmits its location to an end-user via satellite, although other environmental sensors may be attached.  Teachers work with a local boater or fisherman to have the drifter deployed offshore and to retrieve the drifter. Shore-based deployments may also be possible. 

Building Manuals

Lesson Plans

Podcasts

Videos

Books

Other

Standards Addressed

 

Building Manuals

Construction Manuals for Surface Drifter
 

Lesson Plans

Latitude and Longitude: Tracking Your Drifter with Real-time Data, Grades 5-8 Lesson Plan, 2014

Where Did the Rubber Bath Toys Go?, Grades K-8, Sea Grant Alaska

Weather and Circulation Systems, Grades K-8, Sea Grant Alaska

Waves and Tides, Grades K-8, Sea Grant Alaska

Temperature and Salinity Effects on Deep Ocean Currents, Grades K-8, Sea Grant Alaska

Global Ocean Conveyor Belt, Grades K-8, Sea Grant Alaska

"Ducks in the Flow" Lesson Plans: Going with the Flow and The Ocean in Motion, Grades 3-5, 2008, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Investigating Earth's Hydrosphere: Ocean Currents and Salinity, Grades 5-12, Polar Trec

Ocean Conveyor Belt, Grades 8-12, C MORE Science Kits

Ocean Currents and Drifters, Grades 9-12 Lesson Plan, 2014

Motion in the Ocean: What Causes Waves and Ocean Currents?, Grades 9-12

Read Set Drift!: Coastal Currents and Navigation, Grades 9-12

Climate Change and Currents, Grades 9-12

The Coriolis Effect, Grades 9-12

Ups and Downs: What Causes Tides?, Grades 9-12

Climate Change and Tides, Grades 9-12

The Science Behind Global Positioning, Grades 9-12

I Know Where You Are: An Introduction to Global Positioning, Grades 9-12

Programming Lesson Plan, Undergraduate, 2015

Currents and Drifters Lab, Elements of Oceanography (OCEA-105) 2012, Dr. Charles Gregory
 

Podcasts

Adroitly Adrift, by Ari Daniel- http://coseenow.net/podcast/2010/02/drifter/     February 2010

Script: http://coseenow.net/podcast/files/2010/02/og28script.pdf
 

Videos

NASA Perpetual Ocean

Bob the Drifter

Students Launch Ocean Drifter, Nautilus Live, 2014
 

Books

Ocean Commotion: Caught in the Currents by Janeen Mason

The Mysterious Ocean Highway: Benjamin Franklin and the Gulf Stream by Deborah Heiligman

Ocean Currents: Marine Science Activities for Grades 5-8 by Catherine Halversen, Kevin Beals, Craig Strang

Physical Oceanography Second Edition by Brent A. Ford and P. Sean Smith

Tracking Trash: Floatsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion by Loree Griffin Burns

Physical Oceanography Revised Second Edition by Alfredo L. Aretxabaleta, Gregg R. Brooks, and Nancy W. West
 

Other

Key Concepts:

  • Drifting buoys are part of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS).
  • Drifting buoys collect data on sea surface temperature, sea level pressure, and ocean surface current patterns.
  • Knowledge of the ocean surface currents can be used to predict the track of a buoy.
  • Drifting buoys transmit data to satellites, which send them to data collection centers where they can be accessed online.

 

Potential Focus Questions:

  • How are ocean surface currents formed?
  • What are some of the ocean surface currents and where do they flow?
  • What kinds of data can drifting buoys collect?
  • How can we predict the track of a drifting buoy?
  • How can the data from drifting buoys be used?
     

Standards addressed

National Science Education Standards Grade 5 to 8

National Science Education Standards Grade 9 to 12

Ocean Literacy Principles Addressed (Grades K-12):

  • Principle 1: The Earth has one big ocean with many features.
    • Fundamental Concept: c
  • Principle 7: The Ocean is largely unexplored.
    • Fundamental Concepts: b, d, e, f

Atmospheric Science Literacy Principles Addressed:

  • Essential Principle 5: Earth’s atmosphere continuously interacts with the other components of the Earth System.

Climate Literacy Principles Addressed:

  • Essential Principle 2: Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth System.
    • Fundamental Concepts: A, B
  • Essential Principle 5: Our understanding of the climate system is improved through observations, theoretical studies, and modeling.
    • Fundamental Concept: B

State Science Standard(s) Addressed:

  • Will differ depending on your state