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Ocean Drifters –
Investigating Ocean Currents

The ocean is constantly in motion. Ocean water moves in waves, tides, and currents.

Currents flow like rivers. These "rivers" of ocean water can move colder or warmer water to different places in the ocean. Currents also move small plants and animals, pollution, and other things. Look here to see how shoes took a trip around the Pacific Ocean!

Here is more information about currents!

One way scientists study currents is by using ocean drifter buoys. Drifter buoys can be used to track the path of currents. The drifters can be put into the ocean from ships or from airplanes. Each drifter buoy often collects and sends data for 1 1/2 years. Click here to find out more about drifter buoys.

Activities:

  • Activity 1: Where in the World Are We?
    Students: HTML | PDF
    Teachers: HTML | PDF
    Note: For this activity you'll need to use the NOPP Drifter Chart (PDF)

  • Activity 2: The Race is On
    Students: HTML | PDF
    Teachers: HTML | PDF
    Note: For this activity you'll need to use the NOPP Drifter Chart (PDF)

  • Activity 3: Track a Drifter
    Students & Teachers: HTML | PDF
    Note: For this activity you'll need to use the NOPP Drifter Chart (PDF)

    These activities were adapted from "Track a NOPP Drifter" written by Anna C. Switzer for the NOPP-Consortium of Oceanographic Activities for Students and Teachers (COAST). To find out more, please visit: this website and this website.

    How do currents affect you? From Gulf Stream Voyage identify a major current that flows past the coast nearest to you. Explain how the current affects your climate.

Images (click images for larger versions):

These scientists are deploying (releasing) a drifter from a research vessel. The drogue (what the scientist in the center is holding) is the first portion dropped into the water, followed by the surface float (what the scientist on the right is holding). An ocean drifter has three parts: the yellow drogue, a temperature sensor, and a white surface float. The surface float contains a transmitter to send data to a satellite.
These colored lines are the tracks of drifters released in August 1995 off Newport OR. The black line is the coastline of Oregon and California. The tracks are marked with dots at weekly time periods through March 1996. This chart shows tracks of drifters released into the Pacific Ocean in July 1999 off Newport Oregon. The black line is the coastline of Oregon and California. These tracks are marked with dots at weekly time periods through December 1999.

 

Other Links:

 

Top image: This drifter has just been released from a research ship. The blue and gray drogue will sink to a depth of 10-15 meters. The red and white float will stay at the ocean surface. Photo courtesy of NOPP.

Photo credits: Photos and charts courtesy of Dr. Jack Barth, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon.