NOAA to Launch Drifter Equipped with GPS Trackers to Where Ocean Water Flows

23 Aug 2017

The oceans of the world are constantly moving.

Currents of the ocean flow across our planet and distribute heat and impact our weather patterns. You probably knew this already, but, did you know that this force of nature additionally plays a significant role in how marine life travels around our planet?

According to the Executive Director of Jacksonville University Marine Science Research Institute’s, Dr. Quinton White, it’s only one piece of the entire puzzle.

Researchers are watching where the waves of the oceans are traveling to observe shark migrations.

They have built what they refer to as drifters. A drifter is an oceanographic device that floats on the surface of the ocean so researchers can investigate the currents of the ocean as well as other parameters such as salinity or temperature. Satellite typically tracks modern drifters, often through GPS trackers. Drifters often house sensors for measuring other properties of the ocean like wind, pressure, and ocean color. The information obtained through GPS is transmitted through a satellite link. On average, drifters transmit information for around 1 to 1.5 years.

The drifters for this project are made from wood, bamboo poles, and bundles of twine. These are all materials that are biodegradable material that researchers will deploy in the ocean to measure the movement of the water.

According to the White, they’re going to take the drifters with the OCEARCH vessel off of Long Island and release them when their tagging sharks to track where the ocean’s currents will take them.

Dr. White hopes that by deploying the drifters in New York, they’ll be able to track them across the Atlantic. They’ve already launched them before off Jacksonville, however, the drifters ended up getting caught in the Gulf Stream and traveled way up to Greenland.

White says that part of what they’re looking for is the way in which the sharks are using the currents. Using the shark tracker, there’s fairly good evidence that the sharks ride the currents because they make sense.

One of the things that the OCEARCH team’s, Chris Fischer has done is gather up and provide the team with a great deal of data on the sharks and what they’re doing and where they are. However, there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered.

These are answers that scientists are trying to hopefully get from the drifters enable for them to solve this shark puzzle.

Once researchers deploy the drifters in August, people will be able to track them in almost real time. Each shark will have a GPS tracking device attached to it, therefore NOAA will be able to log their locations on their website.

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