Honors Students Create and Launch Ocean Drifter from Nautilus

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Ocean Exploration Trust

UPDATE: Here's a new map with all four drifters:

During their month long stay at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, Honors Research Program students were divided into two groups of four; one group was assigned to be part of the Mesoamerican Reef leg and the other group was assigned to be part of the Windward Passage leg.

The students were tasked with building 2 drifters per group, based on plans from, a program run by NOAA. Students were challenged to add their own modifications to improve upon the design. Both groups modified their buoys to improve air resistance. Each group built two drifters: a surface drifter and an underwater drifter, or drogue. The surface drifters include a buoy, a metal frame, and four sails to help them move through the water. The underwater drifters have a buoy at the surface which is attached to 2 lawn bags — designed to catch the deep water currents — by a 50 foot steel cable. Each drifter has a GPS tracker embedded in the buoy which will periodically report its location through a satellite to This data will then become part of a larger, publicly available data base.

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Ocean Exploration Trust

The original plan was to drop two of the drifters at the Mesoamerican Reef, but in two different locations. After receiving a suggestion from NOAA’s Dr. Peter Etnoyer, the students have decided to put their drifters in the water on the full moon, to coincide with a grouper spawning event at Gladden’s Spit, a Marine Protected Area. The objective is that the movement of the drifters will provide information about how currents move the grouper’s eggs, whether that be in the Gulf Stream or in a smaller, more localized gyre. The Windward Passage group will put their drifters in the Caribbean Current, with the hope that they will be transported by the Gulf Stream toward the Atlantic. You can follow the path of the drifters online here. The data updates twice daily.

Related Links:

High School Students Conduct Research with the Corps of Exploration

2014 Honors Research Program Recap