Global ocean drifter deployed off Santa Cruz Island in California

May 2, 2012

Yesterday, two students from Oak Park High School in Oak Park, Calif. deployed a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ocean drifter into the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, contributing to a global array that yields vital environmental data. Calvin Earp and Nirupam Nigam deployed the buoy from the Sanctuary’s research vessel Shearwater.

“We’re extremely proud of our students. Each won a prize in NOAA’s Adopt A Drifter contest, which gives students across the country the chance to learn about our environment right in their classrooms, and with the same near real time data that ocean and climate scientists use,” said Tony Knight, Oak Park Unified School District superintendent.

A group of fourth grade students from Montalvo Elementary School in Ventura also adopted the buoy and will partner with The International Preparatory School in Santiago, Chile to track it over the next year.

“A drifting buoy is like a 21st-century message in a bottle, except it is equipped with oceanographic and climate sensors that let it transmit scientific measurements by satellite, helping us understand the oceans,” said Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D., assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and deputy NOAA administrator. “With better understanding, we can better predict the paths of approaching hurricanes, the distribution of fish and other marine species, and the fate of marine pollution and debris. Students in schools across the country can adopt a drifter, and follow its journey via the internet. This relationship makes climate and ocean science more tangible, as students discover the workings of the earth through the lens of their buoy.” 

Each drifter, or 44-pound floating ocean buoy, moves in the ocean currents. These currents carry heat from place to place, which affects climate.  While satellite technology makes sea surface temperature measurements possible from space, drifters are needed to ensure these measurements are accurate. Without drifter observations to correct satellite measurements, these measurements can err due to dust and other elements in the atmosphere. Each drifter is part of a global ocean array that students can follow online, along with the particular drifter they adopted.

Student drifter events marking Earth Day are also occurring this month in Boston, Mass.; Miami, Fla.; Mobile, Ala.; Seattle, Wash.; and Maui, Hawaii.

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1980 to protect marine resources surrounding San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa and Santa Barbara islands. The sanctuary spans approximately 1,470 square miles, extending from island shorelines to six miles offshore, and encompasses a rich diversity of marine life, habitats and historical and cultural resources. More information is available online.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources.

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