History of the Drifter Program
The concept of Student Drifters was established in 2004 as a research-based program by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lab in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. As originally conceived, the program’s primary objectives were to engineer and deploy low-cost, hand-built, ocean drifters. These units are used to track currents via satellite telemetry. The data collected contributes to NOAAs Integrated Ocean Observing System and validates numerical models.
Applications funded to date include:
- Lobster larvae advection
- Harmful Algal Bloom advection
- Zooplankton (whale food) advection
- Educational demonstrations
- Invasive crab dispersal
- Transient eddy formations
- Fish larvae (salmon,cod) advection
- Power plant effluent dispersal
- Clam acidification
The drifter program stemmed from the fourth phase of the Environmental Monitors on Lobster Traps project (see Manning and Pelletier, 2009 and emolt.org). Funded parties including the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, the Southern Maine Community College (SMCC), and NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center were interested in tracking the potential transport of early-staged larvae along the coast of Maine. In subsequent years, we were primarily funded by McGillicuddy et al in another NOAA funded project (GOMTOX) to track the advection of HABs (Manning et al, 2009). Another big boost to the project occurred in the summer of August 2009 when we hosted a NSF-funded workshop to teach a few dozen educators from around the country (from the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) consortium).
In recent years, the drifter program has broadened its scope and invited local schools and educators to become involved in drifter building, deployment, and tracking. The drifters have proven to be a very successful educational tool in high school science or STEM classes, after-school programs, summer science schools, and informal educational settings. In the past few decades, more than 1500 drifters have been built and deployed by approximately 100 different schools.
In 2022, with Jim Manning’s retirement, the project site moved away NOAA. While Jim is still involved, Dr. Kristin Burkholder, an oceanographer from Stonehill College, has joined the team.
History of Drifter Designs
|Graham & Kara||2004-2011||~100||drogued||expensive, no loss-detector|
|Eddie||2010-2013||~200||wood & collar||vinyl sails& fiberglass spars|
|Miles||2010||4||4″ PVC foam-filled fence post||more plastic|
|Steve||2012||4||garden stakes & stays||labor|
|Dan||2012||6||broom handle mast extension||weak extension|
|Brandy||2012||1||Milk jug flotation||internittent|
|Massasoit||2013||1||ski pole mast extension||none|
|Cassie||2013-2014||22||eco-friendly Bamboo mast & spars||inconsistent & hard to find parts|
|Colin||2013-2014||8||Pop-up leaf bag drogue||uncertain of drogues survival|
|Irina||2013-Present||35||Aluminum mast & spars||variable results depending on details of rigging|
|Megan||2014||1||floatie buoyancy and 12mm driveway-marker fiberglass spars||testing|
Thanks to all the students, teachers, and mariners who have helped with the design changes over the years.