First-ever NOAA "Adopt a Drifter" in the Gulf of Mexico to be deployed by local high schools and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab on Friday, April 20, 2012

April 20, 2012

Mobile, Ala., high school students.

Mobile, Ala., high school students prepare to deploy a small, 44 lb. NOAA buoy into the Gulf of Mexico, April 20, 2012. With the help of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, they joined students in Veracruz, Mexico, via telepresence technology to share the experience. Equipped with oceanographic sensors, NOAA "drifters" travel the world ocean and collect valuable climate information.

High resolution (Credit: Dauphin Island Sea Lab)

Established in 2004, the NOAA Adopt a Drifter Program has sponsored more than 50 co-adopted drifters in global oceans, but never in the Gulf of Mexico. On Friday, April 20, at 8:00am CST, students from three local high schools (Daphne High School, Murphy High School, Auburn High School) will board the Dauphin Island Sea Lab's Alabama Discovery, traveling approximately 4.5 hours offshore in the Gulf of Mexico to deploy the first-ever "Adopt a Drifter" for "America's Sea." They will be joined via distance technology by students at a partner high school in Vera Cruz, Mexico (Colegio Bilingüe Madison).

NOAA is coordinating six such deployments nationally as part of its Earth Day celebration. Drifter events are also underway in Boston, Maui, Miami, Santa Barbara and Seattle.

A drifter is a drifting buoy that transmits its location and sea surface temperature data via satellite. Drifter data are used to track major ocean currents and eddies globally, ground truth data from satellites, build models of climate and weather patterns, predict the movement of pollutants if dumped or accidentally spilled into the sea, and assist with the forecast path of approaching hurricanes.  A single drifter typically lasts for an average of 400 days.

NOAA's Adopt a Drifter Program allows teachers and students to track their adopted drifter and integrate its data and path into their classroom content and activities.  An educational sticker or drawing from each school is adhered to the drifter before deployment and photos taken to document the activity. The teachers receive the WMO number of their drifting buoy in order to access data from the school's adopted drifter online. Participating teachers use existing lesson plans and develop new plans to explore oceanographic concepts with their students, giving their students a real world application using the drifting buoy data. Students become more engaged with the study of ocean currents, the Gulf of Mexico, regional ocean surface temperature patterns because they have taken ownership by adopting the drifter.

 Dr. Tina Miller-Way, Chair of Discovery Hall Programs for Education and Outreach at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, said "I am very excited about this new opportunity for students and teachers. The Adopt a Drifter Program is a great tool for engaging students with all that happens in the Gulf - hurricanes, oil spills and dead zones. We have been trying to 'bridge' the Gulf and interact with our colleagues on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico and what better way than through the next generation.  We will be streaming some of the deployment so students in Mexico can watch. After deployment, students will be sharing their explorations via a blog hosted by DISL. I cannot wait to see where it goes, what patterns we observe, what the students learn and hopefully a cross-Gulf feeling of stewardship among the students."

An exhibit about NOAA's Adopt a Drifter Program will be mounted in the Estuarium, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab's public aquarium. A replica of a drifter is included in the display.

 Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction, NOAA, stated, "A drifting buoy is like a 21st-century message in a bottle, except it is equipped with oceanographic and climate sensors that let it transmit scientific measurements by satellite, helping us understand the oceans. With better understanding, we can better predict the strength of approaching hurricanes, the distribution of fish and other marine species, and the fate of marine pollution and debris.

"Students in schools across the country can adopt a drifter, and follow its journey using the Internet. This relationship makes climate and ocean science more tangible, as students discover the workings of the earth through the lens of their buoy. International student partnerships also broaden cultural understanding and enable collaborative online tracking of drifters across the global sea."

More information on NOAA's Adopt a Drifter Program can be found at

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