Tracking the ocean

August 11, 2015 by No Comments | Category Marine Directorate Science, Oceanography

Ocean drifters

Ocean drifters

Seven ocean drifters have been released off the West of Shetland as part of the latest Marine Scotland Science research to track ocean currents.

Understanding ocean currents is essential in planning for any emergency situation in our seas, while the data can also help scientists measure environmental trends such as climate change.

The drifters, which were released in May, are equipped with satellite trackers which provide hourly positions and allow scientists to study ocean currents in great detail. Although the study is in its early stages, interesting patterns of how water flows around the Northern Isles are already being observed.

The drifters were previously used in the 2013 collaborative Brahan project which has been used to develop new observational modelling tools and improve numerical models that will help clean up oil spills.

Ocean drifters have been used by scientists for more than a century with examples of earlier technology, including glass bottles and plastic markers, still being found on Scotland’s shores.

For example, a plastic ocean drifter that was found on a beach in Edinburgh in May this year was discovered to have been released in 1969 as part of a detailed study into the circulation of the Firth of Forth. This particular tracker, which had travelled a total distance of 23km, is the 1473rd marker from this study to be returned and the first since 1989.

Speaking ahead of a visit to Shetland, Environment Minister Aileen McLeod said:

“Marine Scotland continually uses drifters to study ocean currents in Scottish seas and coastal areas. Over the years these drifters have undertaken extraordinary journeys and we’re beginning to understand more about how currents work.

“With developments in technology, these drifters now play an important role in discovering the secrets of the seas and helping us to understand our environment and the effects of climate change.”

Dr Bee Berx from Marine Scotland Science said:

“The satellite tracked drifters are showing us in great detail the transport pathways of our coastal currents. Our next challenge is to interpret these results, to improve our understanding of circulation in the region and to incorporate this new knowledge in our advice.”


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