Friday, March 23, 2018
Students win chance to launch a NOAA global ocean drifter for Earth Day

Students win chance to launch a NOAA global ocean drifter for Earth Day

Students and scientists benefit from 21st-century 'message in a bottle' launches

Contact: John Ewald, 240-429-6127

Preparing for launch

Preparing for launch

Deputy NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan is joined by students Maggie Tobin, Heather Gaughan and Annie Harriman of Gates Intermediate School of Scituate, Mass. The students competed in essay and art contests to win the opportunity to launch a NOAA global ocean drifter into the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of Massachusetts. Credit: NOAA

Middle and high school students in six cities across America have won the chance to deploy a NOAA global ocean drifter for Earth Day, earning the opportunity to launch a small 44-pound floating buoy into an ocean current. Joining a full global array, drifters travel with ocean currents across the world ocean and transmit climate and environmental data vital to calibrating satellite data, predicting the strength of hurricanes, and tracking ocean pollutants, species migration and marine debris.

"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. With better understanding, we can better predict the strength of approaching hurricanes, the distribution of fish and other marine species, and the fate of marine pollution and debris,” said Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., former astronaut and deputy NOAA administrator.

Students on the East, West, Gulf and Hawaiian coasts participated in ocean-themed essay and art contests to win the honor of deploying a drifter “adopted” by their schools. Additionally, contest winners are collaborating with international students to track drifters together, enabling an ocean education experience that broadens cultural understanding. This year’s international partners include the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Chile, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. NOAA’s Adopt a Drifter program now partners with 13 other countries around the world.

“This relationship makes climate and ocean science more tangible, as students discover the workings of the Earth through the lens of their buoy. International student partnerships also broaden cultural understanding and enable collaborative online tracking of drifters across the global sea,” Sullivan added.

Students assist with launching a drifter

Students assist with launching a drifter

On board the NOAA vessel Auk, students of Gates Intermediate School of Scituate, Mass., the Boston Latin Academy, and NOAA Deputy Administrator Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan launched a NOAA drifter into the NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The drifter will travel in the ocean currents, joining a full global ocean drifter array that collects vital oceanic and climate data. Credit: NOAA

Student drifter events marking Earth Day began April 17 in Boston and are occurring through the end of the month in Mobile, Ala. (April 20), Maui (April 23), Channel Islands/Santa Barbara (April 27), and Miami (April 27). Another drifter, signed by students in Washington State, will be deployed by NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson on its mission to Alaska the week of April 23.

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. Join us at or on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.

On the Web:
Global Drifter Program
NOAA’s Earth Day website

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