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

La Niña and El Niño

La Niña and El Niño

These maps illustrate the typical impacts of El Niño and La Niña on U.S. winter weather. During La Niña, the Pacific jet stream often meanders high into the North Pacific and and is less reliable across the southern tier of the United States. The southern tier of U.S. states—from California to the Carolinas—tends to be warmer and drier than average. During El Niño, these deviations from the average are approximately (but not exactly) reversed.

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.


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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Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) - or "NOAA Research" - provides the research foundation for understanding the complex systems that support our planet. Working in partnership with other organizational units of the NOAA, a bureau of the Department of Commerce, NOAA Research enables better forecasts, earlier warnings for natural disasters, and a greater understanding of the Earth. Our role is to provide unbiased science to better manage the environment, nationally, and globally.


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