GPS Tracker Reveals Ocean Currents and Beach Litter Travel

10 Nov 2016

A GPS tracker has landed at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station after beginning its journey in the ocean at San Salvador Island, in the Bahamas. The piece of equipment glided across the sea for months before landing at its final destination on Tuesday, October 18.

The GPS tracking device was sent out to sea by Assistant Professor Jeremy Stalker, and a group of his students, from Jacksonville University, Florida. They were attempting to ascertain whether there is bad news up ahead for the coastlines of Central and South Florida, and where trash might end up reaching the shore over the weeks ahead.

The tracker was created by a group of Stalker’s study abroad students who made a structure of floats, PVC pipes, and other items they found on a Bahamas beach. It was then sent out on the seas to try find out how water travels.

However, the drifter ended up stuck in the Sargasso Sea, in the center of the Atlantic Ocean, in a slow-circling body of water. The piece of GPS tracking equipment floated in a seemingly endless spiral, surrounded by trash, for almost two months until it was saved by the arrival of a hurricane.

The team were naturally convinced that the drifting tracker was never going to be seen again, then Hurricane Matthew came. The force of the wind drew it out of the spiraling water, and sent the drifter back into faster moving currents.

As of Wednesday, October 19, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website updates showed the drifter on a shoreline in Brevard County, close to an Air Force launch pad. Professor Stalker has indicated that the GPS tracking shows that the drifter has moved on the beach, which shows that someone has picked it up.

Stalker has also been helping local high school students, as well as those at Jackson University send out as many as ten drifters out to sea, with the first one travelling the furthest. “Wilson” went from the St. Johns River area to somewhere just south of Greenland before the death of its battery at around the eight-month mark.

Stalker intimated, “The students are all really hoping to get a call from France, or Iceland or England – that it had washed up over there. But sometimes you get a call from St. Augustine.”

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